Pushing Emotions Aside, Celtics Like What They're Becoming
PHILADELPHIA – When Brad Stevens speaks, everyone should listen.
Stevens is a man who rarely sugarcoats reality. He is more knowledgeable about the game of basketball than 99 percent of the world’s population. He is fully plugged into his team each and every day of the NBA season, bar none.
So when he makes the type of statements he did Thursday night, after the Celtics lost their third straight game for the first time this season, don’t take it as lip service.
Take it as fact.
“If we play like we did tonight, clean some things up and play with a little more pop,” the coach said, “then I like what we’re becoming.”
Such a comment might be difficult to associate with for those who get caught up in the emotions of an NBA season, particularly after a frustrating defeat that featured the evaporation of a 15-point lead. Such a comment might even feel blasphemous to such a group of people.
That’s all well and good, but what truly matters in the grand scheme of things is how the Boston Celtics associate with Stevens’ statement, and trust these words: they are in lockstep with their head coach.
Following Thursday’s loss, there was no sense of negativity inside of Boston’s locker room. Instead, there were slight feelings of frustration, and even more overriding tones centered around a big-picture view.
“You’re not gonna win em all, you’re not gonna lose em all,” said Marcus Smart. “You’re gonna win some games you’re supposed to lose, you’re gonna lose some games you’re supposed to win. It’s part of it.”
Kemba Walker echoed his teammate’s sentiments, saying, “You can’t win em all, obviously, but we’ve just gotta be better. We’re going to continue to improve and continue to learn and grow with each other.”
Finally, Jaylen Brown added, “We’ve got to watch the film, get back in the lab. All is not lost.”
It most certainly is not. Every word these guys spoke was accurate – and none of those words were negative.
Why? Because we’re not even midway through the NBA season, and Boston still owns a top-five record in the league. Truth be told, the Celtics are far from a place where they’d need to hit the panic button.
Stevens put that into perspective by referencing the recent history of the very team Boston fell to Thursday night – the 76ers.
“The league is hard,” he said. “You can feel pretty good about yourself, and then one week later, not so hot. These guys (the 76ers) just went through it over here last week.”
Stevens was referencing the four-game losing streak that Philadelphia suffered from Dec. 27 through Jan. 3, a streak that just ended Monday night. Now, after consecutive wins over Oklahoma City and Boston, the 76ers are feeling pretty darn good about themselves. The Celtics understand that their tide can turn just as quickly.
Nearly every NBA team’s season experiences some ups and some downs, and Stevens constantly preaches to his players to never get too caught up in either. That’s why there was no negativity emanating Thursday night from Boston’s locker room.
That fact deserves undivided attention, because it is the clearest evidence of all that this Celtics team is inherently different than last season’s Celtics team.
A season ago, Boston had suffered three different losing streaks of at least three games by mid-January. Amid each of them, players sulked, pointed fingers, and in general seemed discouraged about where the team was heading.
The opposite is the case this season.
Boston just lost its third game in a row for the first time this season and every member of the team who spoke to the media afterward was upbeat and positive about the group and its future.
From Stevens all the way down to the last player on the depth chart, this team understands that the last three games were just that – a blip on the radar of an 82-game season. Those three games don’t define what this team is, or what it will become by the end of the season.
And, in the honest opinion of a straight-shooting, well-regarded coach, this most recent loss wasn’t all that bad anyway. It was actually encouraging.
“Clearly, we were more locked in and played a lot better than we had before,” Stevens said. “I thought there were a lot more examples of who we want to be tonight than the last couple of games.”
Take those words at face value. They mean something.