|Celtics might be in big trouble if their leader can’t step up||12.03.14 at 12:38 pm ET|
Last year, in the first season of the Celtics‘ post-Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett rebuild, we expected them to stumble to one of the league’s worst records. They did just that, ending up with a record of 25-57. No big deal. We all saw it coming and knew the results would be tough. But 15 games into last season the C’s held a record of 5-10 — all games in which Rajon Rondo did not play. That’s not bad.
This year was expected to be different. Rondo would be beginning the season with the team, Danny Ainge used the No. 6 pick in the draft on the promising Marcus Smart, and the rest of the youngsters had another year of experience under their belts. That young core included Brad Stevens, who arguably had as much learning to do as any player on his roster in his first go-round as an NBA head coach.
Despite all of the positive signs heading into the season, it has not been any different. In fact, it has been worse. The Celtics have a record of 4-11 after 15 games — that’s bad. Their loss to the Hawks on Tuesday night was the fifth time this season that the C’s have blown a lead of 15 or more points and lost the game. Growing an enormous first-half lead and then losing the game has become routine for these Celtics, especially on their home floor.
In ways it’s depressing that after opening up a 23-point lead in Atlanta the expectation was that they would find a way to lose, but those who saw it coming were right. The reason is their fourth-quarter execution, as they rank last in the league in fourth-quarter scoring. Stevens knows that the C’s will continue to produce disappointing results until his team does something about it.
“The game honors the more physical team,” Stevens said following the loss. “It does night in and night out. We’ve just got to improve in that area.”
He later concluded: “I’m not crazy enough to think that if [the physicality] doesn’t change, we’ll be sitting up here a lot like this.”
The fourth-quarter numbers have been well documented at this point, but it seems laughable that the Celtics haven’t even gotten lucky and been able to close out any of these games. The main problem in the fourth quarter has been the apparent disconnect between Rondo and his teammates during crunch time.
|Brad Stevens remains obsessed with Spurs||12.01.14 at 12:57 pm ET|
The defending champions came into Boston on Sunday and blew the doors off of the struggling, young Celtics. The Spurs scored 66 points in the second half en route to a 22-point victory after the C’s led by four points at the break. It was a dominant performance, and Brad Stevens took notice.
“I told the guys in the locker room, it’s probably the best basketball team that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime, as far as how they’re coached, how they play, their understanding, their roles,” the Celtics coach said. “And you can hear them walking back in their locker room. There’s a reason they’re really good. They’ve built a bond and a trust that is very special.”
Stevens has admired the Spurs since he joined the league following the Spurs’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. He often spoke of them as a model of success, and then even more so after the Spurs were able to dethrone the Heat in convincing fashion in 2014. During draft workouts and summer league practices in Waltham this past offseason, Stevens seemingly was obsessed with finding anything he could steal from Gregg Popovich to incorporate into success for the Celtics.
The 38-year-old Stevens even reached out to the 65-year-old Popovich to pick his brain — something the Spurs coach was asked about before Sunday’s game.
“He didn’t find much,” Popovich offered (with his typical smirk while speaking with media members).
“It’s both flattering and embarrassing [that Stevens looks up to the Spurs], in a way,” Popovich added. “We’ve been so fortunate over the years with the people we’ve had. As I’ve said often, who wouldn’t want to follow David [Robinson] by drafting Tim Duncan and go from there. Your biggest job is not to screw it up. And we haven’t, we have not screwed it up. That’s the credit that we deserve. But that good fortune, anybody would like to start a program that way. I’m flattered by what he said. We do try and do things in a certain way. I think a lot of the things we do are pretty universal, but we make mistakes, too.”
|Brad Stevens knows Celtics have ‘got to finish’ before they can even think about winning||11.28.14 at 10:27 pm ET|
Winners go for the jugular. Losers allow victory to slip through their hands.
Unfortunately, for Brad Stevens, he’s seeing much too much of the slipping and not enough killer instinct, with Friday’s 109-102 loss to the Bulls the latest example.
There’s a common, unsettling theme developing between Stevens’ rookie season of 25 wins and this season. The Celtics‘ coach watched Friday as a 16-point second-quarter lead evaporated. He then saw his team bounce back as they have so many times this season, taking an 81-72 lead late in the third quarter.
Was Friday finally going to be one of those rare days where the Celtics show the mental toughness to hang on for a quality win like they did on Nov. 8 in Chicago against these same Bulls?
Nope. Not when you shoot 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the final quarter, score 11 points, miss all eight 3-point attempts and convert just one of five free throws. The Celtics, like they did against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Cleveland just crumbled on their own parquet floor.
“I felt good coming into the game,” Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about it. Hey, we scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
After his team fell to 4-9 on the season, losing for the fifth time in six games, Stevens was asked if he’s starting to question what he’s doing based on all the losing.
“We can win by 30 and I’m questioning me,” Stevens said. “This has nothing to do with [score]. I don’t change game to game, as far as my own analysis or being overly critical or any of those types of things.”
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|Marcus Smart returns to practice, Avery Bradley tries to focus on being aggressive||11.26.14 at 4:37 pm ET|
The Celtics‘ main focus during their practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be on preparing to battle a tough Bulls team when Chicago arrives in Boston for a Black Friday matinee. However, a share of the spotlight will be on Marcus Smart’s return to practice, with the hope that he can suit up after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle.
“It’s just a matter of him getting back out here, and it’s more about conditioning than it is about anything else right now,” offered Brad Stevens. “Just because he hasn’t done anything on the court physically, as far as five-on-five in the last three weeks, or whatever it’s been.”
One thing the team certainly will not do is rush Smart, especially after Avery Bradley attempted to return prematurely from an ankle injury just last season.
“I don’t know [if Bradley can offer Smart any help on returning],” Stevens said. “Again, I trust our medical team and medical staff, and I think that Marcus and Avery, I’m sure, will share that discussion and talk about that. We don’t want anybody to come back before they’re physically able, because, obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”
Bradley knows he put himself in a bad spot last year, so his advice to Smart was simple.
“It’s tough. This is his first year. Obviously he wants to help our team out and he’s a little disappointed that he hasn’t been able to every single game,” Bradley said. “He’s back, but one thing everyone’s been telling him is just make sure that your body feels good, listen to your body.”
|Brad Stevens takes the fall for Rajon Rondo dribbling out the clock||11.15.14 at 9:24 am ET|
The immediate reaction by most Friday night was to blame Rajon Rondo for dribbling out the clock and not getting a shot off, the appropriate ending to a self-destruction at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 122-121 loss at TD Garden.
But to the cerebral Brad Stevens, there was much more to his star player not getting up a shot down a point with the game in the balance.
With seven seconds left, coming out of a timeout, Stevens watched as the Cavaliers and James took away the number one option in Jeff Green, forcing Kelly Olynyk to inbound to Jared Sullinger. The big man then dumped it to Rajon Rondo, who was fighting to get free from rookie Joe Harris. The Cavaliers switched Harris off a screen and Shawn Marion was on Rondo for the final four seconds. Then Rondo lost control before dribbling out the clock, firing up an off-balance attempt a full second after time expired.
“Well, we had a couple of different options,” Stevens said. “We had Jeff over the top, which I’d have to look at the film to see if he had LeBron sealed for a lob. Obviously, it’s a little bit riskier of a pass, but we had just thrown it to Jared and then we just had a simple swing to Rondo and our desire was to reject the screen. And he had a good match-up, but Joe Harris did a nice job on him, and we didn’t get a shot off.
“Rondo isolated on a rookie on the right wing. I felt pretty good when he got the ball reversed to him. Again, give Joe Harris a lot of credit. He did a great job on that possession. We were trying to space and rip and drive and play. I told Rondo those plays start with me. I’ll be responsible for that one.”
|Brad Stevens preaches defense at practice, Marcus Smart speaks for first time since injury||11.13.14 at 7:34 pm ET|
Following Wednesday’s home loss to the Thunder, Brad Stevens took the Celtics through a practice that lasted almost two hours on Thursday afternoon and not surprisingly, the focus was on defense after the C’s let up 109 points to a severely short-handed Oklahoma City squad.
“I think we wanted to talk about some things we were doing defensively and not doing defensively,” Stevens said. “We watched a lot of film of that. And then, you know, we’ll see what the carryover looks like. [But it clearly] was a defensive oriented film session and review session.”
Stevens added: “We did some good things. But we did not sustain them, and that was the other emphasis [Thursday].”
There was some positive news coming from the session.
Marcus Smart was up and walking around at the Celtics‘ practice facility, and also spoke to the media for the first time since spraining his left ankle during last Friday night’s game.
“I’ve sprained my ankle before, plenty of times,” said Smart. “It’s a part of the game, it’s a part of being an athlete. But I’ve never been in that type of pain with my ankle before, so it was something new to me.”
The pain was obvious since Smart was ushered off the court on a stretcher, but even though the sprain turned out to be less serious than what seemed at the time, the rookie is being cautious about how he handles the injury moving forward.
“I’m just taking it slow, taking my time, [I want to] make sure I’m 100 percent,” Smart said. “I don’t really want to rush anything right now. Even though I’m going to feel better before I really am, I’m just trying to make sure that, you know, I’m 100 percent before I step on the court again.”
Brad Stevens isn’t the kind of coach to throw chairs or even raise his voice to get his point across when he’s ticked off at his team.
But Wednesday night, after a complete and utter no-show in the second half of a 109-94 loss to the undermanned Thunder at the Garden, Stevens came as close to publicly calling them out as you’ll see from the mild-manned coach.
“Well, I think it was, first of all, their energy and their togetherness, and their energy,” Stevens said. “Their passion was obvious and evident. And I don’t know if it was the fact that we missed a couple of shots that got us out of a rhythm, but the bottom line is we didn’t guard them at all in the second half. And they had a lot to do with that. They ran good stuff, and they made shots.”
Former Boston College sharpshooter Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow (28 points each) picked up the slack for a team missing Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder, who trailed 51-42 at the half, outscored the Celtics, 67-43, in the second half, as Boston allowed Oklahoma City to shoot 62 percent (26-of-42).
“Credit to them,” Stevens said. “We talked about guys like Morrow; if you ever leave Morrow, he’s going to score,” Stevens said. “If you ever get hit on a screen and you’re lost, he’s going to score. And he scored a lot. And we let the big’s run down the lane and dunk it a couple times. I mean, 67 points in a half is pretty poor.”
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