Smart Urges C's to Stay Positive Amid Tough Stretch: 'Just Breathe'

BOSTON – It’s easy for a team to get caught up in the negative emotions of a losing streak, especially when it’s trying to establish a rhythm before heading into the Playoffs. The Boston Celtics, despite being in the midst of a difficult stretch, are not that type of team.

After dropping their fourth straight game Sunday night, 115-96 to the San Antonio Spurs, the C’s made sure to circulate an even-keeled and progressive mindset throughout their locker room at TD Garden. For they know that improvement over the last eight regular-season games will only come if a positive approach is maintained.

“We’ve just got to take a deep breath,” Marcus Smart calmly stated after the game as he leaned back in a chair in front of his locker. “We’ve just gotta take a deep breath and calm down. We’re anxious, we want to get some wins, and we want to get back on the track of winning, but we really got to take a deep breath and get back to the team that really got us the reputation that we upheld into this season. Just being dogs on the court, making nobody want to play against us. Right now, teams just feel like they can do whatever they want against us. That’s on us, we gotta fix it. We will.”

Most of those fixes start on the defensive end, where Boston has always prided itself. The C’s started off the season strong defensively, but they have noticed some drop-offs in that capacity of late.

“I think recently transition defense has been a problem for us,” said Gordon Hayward, who emerged from the NBA’s concussion protocol Sunday night to deliver a 13-point, 10 rebound performance. “I think a lot of times, for the most part, when we are able to set our defense, we’ve been pretty tough, but sometimes we’re not getting back. Some of that’s offensive blows, shot selection, long rebounds, turnovers – but definitely transition defense. When they’re coming at you and you’re not set, that’s tough to defend. So that’s been a key of ours in film sessions and we’ve gotta make sure that we hold ourselves to that.”

How do they hold themselves to that standard during the games that remain?

“Just our commitment to just getting back, being in the right spots and maintaining the shell on defense,” said Kyrie Irving, who logged 11 points and 12 assists against the Spurs. “When we’re not being very communicative with one another we’re all over the place, and that’s not when we’re great. Our strength is when we’re really flying around, being physical, playing with intensity, and then that leads to our fast break and our opportunities on the other end.”

Smart, who scored a team-high 14 points Sunday night, says the team spent a good amount of time after the game dissecting film and discussing how they can improve upon their recent deficiencies.

“We’re all trying to get better as professionals,” Smart said of the post-game gathering. “We’re trying to find, the next game, mistakes not to make again. That’s a good sign for us. We weren’t doing that early on. Guys were all chiming in on this and that rotation, or what we could do differently. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Having that type of open conversation allowed the players to leave the locker room in a positive frame of mind.

“I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing –‘We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it’ – but we can’t put extra, extra, extra stress and more weight on ourselves,” said Smart. “We’ve got to take a deep breath, breathe, just relax, and then go out there and have fun and play basketball.”

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