Kyrie: It's on Players To Heighten Competitiveness, Attention to Detail
BOSTON – The final identity of last season’s Celtics was playing hard in games.
The initial identity of this season’s Celtics is playing hard in practice.
That discrepancy is a problem, one from which the Celtics aren’t running away, and one they’re still searching to solve following the completion of their exhibition schedule.
“I wish I had an answer for why we can’t translate how hard we play in practice for the last week or so into the games, and have the same structure of what we’re working on,” Kyrie Irving said Tuesday afternoon.
On the same topic, Marcus Smart added, “This is one question I don’t know the answer to. I don’t know.”
Brad Stevens said it Saturday night, and he said it again Tuesday afternoon: this team leaves it all out there on the practice court. When describing this season’s practice effort with last season’s practice effort, he used the word “similar.”
Yet for some reason, it hasn’t translated to the game court.
This season’s Celtics, although only four exhibition games deep, oftentimes looked lackadaisical as they dropped three of their contests. Defensively, they looked nothing like the team that played with a tenacious mindset and led the league in defensive rating a season ago.
Stevens believes the difference in trends may be a hangover effect from last season’s electric run to the brink of the NBA Finals.
“We got a lot of pats on the back for coming close (last season),” Stevens said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, I’ve been a part of teams like that before, and that doesn’t always help you at the start of the next season.”
Neither does being praised all offseason, or being crowned by many as the favorite to win the Eastern Conference, or adding exceptional talent to the group that reached Game 7 of the Conference Finals.
With all of that comes expectations, and it’s never easy to live up to expectations. Doing so requires effort – consistent effort, like that of which the team showcased just one season ago every time it took the court.
There’s only one group that can take responsibility for relocating such a mindset.
“Now it’s up to us as players to make that conscious choice to do it at a very high level, consistently,” said Irving, who went on to explain the nuances of what’s required from this team to improve its play.
“We’re asking a lot of our players to be basketball savants now rather than just basketball players, like, just going out there like you have nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, just go out there and play. Like, we’re not that team anymore,” he said. “We have to be a lot smarter, a lot more diligent in what we’re doing out there, a lot more communicative.”
During games, that is.
The Celtics are already doing it on the practice court. They’re competing at a high level because they want to beat one another and hold bragging rights.
It’s only a matter of time before that competitive spirit bleeds its way into game play. When that happens, Boston’s preseason play will be long forgotten.