The Celtics had lost two straight before putting a 120-106 beating on the Raptors back on February 11th. You might have thought they defeated the Lakers in Los Angles for all the platitudes that were being sung. And let’s face it, this edition of the Toronto Raptors is quite a bit different than the Kawhi Leonard championship version of a few short years ago.
But even after his team’s most complete game of the season, Stevens was cautious about predicting the victory as a turning point, “I would say that the two areas that have kept me up at night are the lack of ball movement and inconsistencies of our defense. I would like to string a few weeks together of ball movement before I get too excited. It’s clearly really important, not only from the standpoint of generating the best looks but also from the standpoint of getting the best out of each other.”
Nevertheless, a win is a win, and when a team is floundering it’s important to focus on the positive and tune out the negative. But all those good vibrations seem like an awfully long time ago as the Shamrocks went on to lose their next two games to the likes of the Pistons and Wizards, two Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers. The NBA lines for the games showed Boston as seven-point favorites in both contests, thus, even the oddsmakers were surprised when the heavily favored Celtics bowed in consecutive outings.
After the loss to Washington, Stevens tried to remain upbeat even at his club’s lowest point to date, “What we take from this game is we clip up how that group that came in at the end and played together and pressured the ball and were communicative. If our team can play more like those last five minutes, we can be as good as we can be. If not, we’ll be average.”
But the whispers about who is to blame are suddenly getting a bit louder. Brad Stevens has been a collected, conscientious, and successful coach since making the transition from Butler University to the professional ranks with Boston eight years ago. But the maturation of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, this year, in particular, should see the Celtics fortunes rising but instead, we see a playoff contender sitting at .500.
Stevens has always related best to the younger players, perhaps because he had so much experience coaching them at the collegiate level. He took an unheralded Butler program to the NCAA Finals in two consecutive seasons and made a seamless transition to the pros.
But Tatum and Brown are no longer inexperienced NBA players. Young, yes, as they are only 22 and 24, respectively, but both have been in the league long enough to feel the celebrity, hero-worship, and fortune that is all part and parcel of being a professional athlete. They both understand they are the big tickets on this team and it appears as though the offense is becoming insular because of their desire to do more. But the success Stevens and the Celtics have had during his tenure is predicated around all five players on the court, not one or two.
That has always been the hallmark of a Brad Stevens team, a cohesive unit where everyone contributes. And while it’s fascinating to see a true star take over a game, it’s not always a recipe for success – just look at Washington’s Bradley Beal. He’s a terrific shooter but the Wizards are still a lousy team even with Russell Westbrook as the Robin to his Batman.
To be fair, the C’s have been without defensive wizard, Marcus Smart, since the end of last month but it should also be pointed out that Boston had lost five of seven before Smart exited with a left calf injury after a 96-95 loss to the Lakers on January 30th. He has yet to return and his status is very much in question for the foreseeable future.
There isn’t much to dislike about Stevens and the players are very much in his court. But they are unwittingly playing selfish basketball and a good coach has to recognize bad habits and break them immediately. If he doesn’t, the Celtics’ brass will find someone who will, and a new coach will be roaming the sidelines trying to get the most out of this highly skilled but dysfunctional roster. Hopefully, Stevens remedies the situation before any drastic measures are taken. It hasn’t reached a critical mass yet…but those whispers are getting louder with each stupefying loss