C's Set To Embark on Grueling Stretch That Will Severely Limit Practice Time

BOSTON – Monday marked the final practice of the calendar year for the Boston Celtics.

They better have enjoyed it, because they won’t be on that court very often over the next six weeks.

Beginning Tuesday in Charlotte, the Celtics are scheduled to play 24 games in the next 45 days leading into the All-Star break. During that six-week stretch, they will have only one instance – Jan. 1-2 – of consecutive days off, all while boarding 16 flights to and from 11 different cities.

That hectic schedule will severely limit Boston’s ability to hit the practice court, as Brad Stevens discussed Monday afternoon.

“We’re not going to have many practices in the next month and a half,” the coach said bluntly. “I think (practice) days like today, we’re not going to be very long, but the messages need to be very clear and we need to be able to take the emphases and apply them.”

A famous quote from Allen Iverson can, in a way, be applied to this conversation. He is well-known for his, “We’re talking about practice!” quote that characterized NBA practices as unimportant. However, contrary to his suggestion, practice is actually at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Think of the Boston Celtics like a pencil, and of practice like a pencil sharpener. A pencil sharpener is used to maintain the pencil’s sharp point and its ability to do its job: to write.

The same can be said of a team and its practices. Practice is used to keep a team like the Celtics sharp and to maintain its ability to do its job, which is executing its offensive and defensive systems.

When a pencil goes unsharpened, it slowly loses its ability to do its job. When Boston cannot practice, it slowly loses its ability to execute.

“It’s about not experiencing slippage,” Stevens said of having limited practice time. “It’s about … we’ve got to make sure we stay on top of all of the things we need to do to be a good team.”

Many of those things are defensive by nature. That’s the end of the court where teams slip the fastest without the opportunity to sharpen themselves.

Boston, in particular, is capable of slipping at the defensive end because it lacks great size and a dominant paint protector. Stevens alluded to those facts Monday morning.

“We have some things, as have been well discussed before the season and I think were well pointed out, that we need to manage,” he said, almost certainly alluding to the team’s lack of size and interior defensive presence. “And so to do that, we have to play well in other areas, specifically at the point of attack in transition, and with our ball pressure. And those are areas where when we slip, you can see it immediately, and it affects our whole defense.”

Boston will need to avoid such slippage over the next six weeks while practicing sporadically. The team will attempt to do so by upping the ante in other areas.

Opportunities such as film sessions, walkthroughs and individual workouts will be of the utmost importance to the Celtics as they navigate these next six weeks. No time can be wasted during these opportunities; as Stevens said, the messages to the players must be clear, and the players must be able to take the emphases and apply them to games without the liberty of practicing them beforehand.

“It’s a mindset,” said Jayson Tatum. “We’ve got to be more focused.”

He went on to add, “You have to be mature about it. With the schedule, you can’t always practice as much as you want, but you’ve just got to understand that if you want to be a part of something special, you’ve got to have the same level of focus every day.”

That is with regard to any activity, whether it’s an occasional practice, a film session, a walkthrough, or an individual workout. Maintaining focus at all times is the only way the Celtics will be able to successfully navigate the next six weeks, while the use of their most trusted sharpening tool – practice – will be limited.

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