Stevens Calls on Celtics To Become More Physical

ATLANTA – Basketball players are oftentimes judged by their tangible skills. Can he shoot? Can he jump? Can he pass?

The Boston Celtics, like any organization, put a high priority on those skills, and rightfully so. However, according to their head coach, it is an intangible characteristic that stands as Boston’s missing ingredient this season.

“I’ve said this line before and I believe it to be true: the game honors the more physical team, night in and night out,” Stevens said Tuesday night, following a devastating 109-105 loss in Atlanta. “We’ve just got to improve in that area. We’ve got to improve in that area… Until we become tougher and more physical when things get tough, then it’s going to be the same old story.”

Asked how the Celtics can make that improvement, Stevens responded with the following statement:

We have to change it,” he said, sounding as if he was pacing the locker room and addressing his own players. We have to do it. You have to do it. You can’t wait for it to be handed to you. You have to take it. You have to grab it.”

In that regard, Boston can learn a lesson from its counterpart on Tuesday. The Hawks trailed the Celtics by as many as 23 points during the first half. They didn’t back down. They didn’t quit. They didn’t quiver. Instead, they stepped onto the court after the halftime break and snatched what they believed was rightfully theirs: a victory.

Atlanta played with physicality when it mattered most. Its players stepped in to take charges. They rose high to block shots. They bodied up to grab rebounds.

Those are the types of plays that decide games; the types of plays the Celtics aren’t making.

“Game-changing plays,” an emotional Stevens said. “Ball’s loose on the ground? Game-changing plays. Rebounds? Game-changing plays. You have to make those to win, and that’s regardless of if you’re up 16 at half or not.”

While discussing those plays during a five-minute and 50-second press conference, Stevens used some form of the word ‘physical’ seven times. Make no mistake about it: he was issuing a challenge.

This is a challenge to his players to develop the intangible characteristic of physicality. In order to finish off these games that they believe they should be winning, they need to play a physical brand of basketball. It’s as simple as that.

One unlikely source in Boston’s locker room spoke up Tuesday night in regard to his coach’s challenge. Marcus Thornton, a scorer who’s rarely been tabbed as physical in nature, believes he and his teammates need to take a long look in the mirror before taking on the Pistons Wednesday night.

“We all should take that personally,” he said of Stevens’ message. “It’s our livelihood. Physicality is one of the things we need to win games. We should take it personally, and we have a game tomorrow, so we’ll see how that goes.”

There is no magic potion the Celtics can take overnight to develop physicality. It’s going to take time. They can, however, take a step in the right direction Wednesday night against one of the more physical teams in the league.

Captain Rajon Rondo was asked Tuesday night whether or not he believes that the Celtics can develop the type of physicality that’s needed to win games. He responded succinctly, saying, “I do believe.” His backcourt teammate, Thornton, agrees, and he explained why.

“We have lost a lot of games and the guys in here, we actually care,” Thornton compassionately stated. “We hate losing. So we’re going to take that challenge on. If Brad wants physicality, then I know the guys are going to huddle up and take that challenge on tomorrow.”

This is the one step the Celtics need to take, the one intangible characteristic they need to develop, in order to turn this season around.

Physicality can get them over the hump.

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