Four Games Into Challenging Trip, C's are Encouraged by Their Play

Four games into their arduous, five-game road trip out West and the Boston Celtics are just a handful of plays away from being undefeated.

Those plays didn’t go their way, however, and they now stand at 2-2 following another loss Sunday afternoon that went down to the final minute.

Boston trailed by just three points entering the final minute of Sunday’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns. It didn’t score from that point on, while Devin Booker drained a clutch pullup jumper with 43.7 seconds left to widen the Suns’ lead, and Phoenix made four free throws to close out its win following two unforgiving calls against the Celtics.

Despite the team suffering its second crunch-time loss in three games, Boston’s coach is excited about what he is seeing from his team.

“Tonight just wasn’t our night shooting the ball,” said Brad Stevens. “I told the team just now: ‘I’m more encouraged than discouraged, because you’re gonna have days like this.’”

There really is great reason for Stevens to feel that way.

As he alluded to, the Celtics nearly found a way to overcome their second-worst shooting performance of the season. They connected on just 35.5 percent of their attempts as a team Sunday afternoon, and they shot just 32.7 percent from inside the 3-point arc.

Yet there the Celtics were during the final minute, battling in a one-possession game against the No. 4 seed in the West thanks to staunch defense and taking care of the ball. And they were in that position despite missing an All-Star wing in Jaylen Brown and an All-Defensive First Team guard in Marcus Smart.

A win undoubtedly would have been the ideal result, but a loss doesn’t eliminate any or all of the good that took place during the defeat. This was without a doubt an encouraging performance, as Kemba Walker alluded to following the game.

“Sometimes we be having some good moments, some moments that we can build off of,” he said. “We’re obviously short some guys as well, and I think it’s encouraging how a lot of the guys are playing.”

Like Payton Pritchard coming back from injury and scoring 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting from long range over two games. Or Grant Williams scoring in double-figures during three of the last four games while providing outstanding defense. Or Carsen Edwards dropping 16 points during Friday night’s win over the Clippers.

And as a team, how about flying into San Francisco on Feb. 1 and taking down Steph Curry and the Warriors the following day? Or going down to the wire with the Kings the next night in Sacramento while Walker and Smart were both out? Or that win over the Clippers?

Truth be told, Stevens’ postgame comment about Sunday’s game can be applied to this road trip as a whole. There’s far more to be encouraged about than discouraged about four games into the West Coast swing. Now one game remains.

One game that, if deposited into the win column, would provide the Celtics a 3-2 record on a road trip during which they’ll have taken on four playoff teams and three of the top six teams in the NBA.

That, folks, would be as encouraging as it gets.

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