Stevens’ Message Triggers C’s Comeback vs. Raps

BOSTON – Brad Stevens rarely shows any emotion during a Celtics game from his perch on the sidelines.

In the locker room? That’s not always the case.

When his Celtics entered halftime Wednesday night facing a 62-51 deficit to the Toronto Raptors, Stevens voiced his discouragement regarding the team’s overall lack of urgency.

And this was no sweet, lighthearted message by any means, according to Isaiah Thomas.

“Honestly, Brad killed us at halftime,” said Thomas. “He yelled at us, and that was probably the most mad I’ve seen him.”

Added Jae Crowder, “He was pretty upset because we weren’t playing with enough fire, with enough energy. Those guys played last night and came out with more energy than us.”

Stevens’ message didn’t appear to click at first, as Toronto extended its lead to 18 points during the first four minutes of the third quarter. Thomas, however, said the coach’s words resonated “in the back of our heads.

Sure enough, Boston began to display a heightened sense of urgency midway through the third frame. The C’s started attacking the basket with tenacity, and they began to make consistent stops on the other end. The surge continued into the fourth quarter as Boston throttled the Raptors, 32-19, during the final frame, paving the way to a 109-104 win.

“I think (Stevens’ message) changed the game for us,” said Thomas, who logged his second straight 40-point game with a 44-point effort. “We just played harder than them, we got the 50-50 balls and I think that was the deciding factor in the game, especially at the end of the third and fourth quarter.”

Things began to slide toward Boston’s favor midway through the third frame when a few Celtics reserves stepped up and delivered high-energy plays on both sides of the ball.

Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Tyler Zeller, in particular, seemed to have taken Stevens’ message to heart, as they began to chip away at a 75-57 deficit.

“We knew we needed them to really pick up our energy,” said Crowder, who tallied 14 points and eight rebounds. “We were flat coming out, and those guys came in and did a great job.”

Added Stevens, “We don’t win without our bench. Specifically I thought Terry and Tyler Zeller gave us huge lifts late (in the) third and early (in the) fourth.”

By the time the Celtics’ starters re-entered the game, they were within shouting distance of the Raptors. Then, it was time for Thomas to put on his typical fourth-quarter magic show, as he matched Toronto’s team total with 19 points during the final frame.

When they walked off with the win, the Celtics felt a bit of weight slip off their shoulders. Not only because they had extended their Atlantic Division lead to one and a half games over the Raptors, but also because they had finally made it over the hump against a Toronto team that had already edged them twice this season.

“It feels like every game is close against them,” said Thomas, “and they beat us (twice), so it was big for us to not put our heads down, not get discouraged and keep at it. We played a hell of an end of the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter tonight, and a lot of guys stepped up.”

It wasn’t just the guys on the court who stepped up; Stevens was the unsung hero of Boston’s comeback. The coach got in his players’ heads at halftime, got their blood boiling with his heated words of encouragement, and provided just the spark they needed to knock off the Raptors and maintain their position as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

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