BOSTON – Tuesday was initially scheduled as an off day for the Boston Celtics, but coach Brad Stevens felt it would best to gather the group in Brighton anyway after losing its seventh game in its last nine outings Monday night.
Stevens didn’t ask the team to assemble because he was frustrated by their recent play, but rather the opposite: he was encouraged. Even though Boston had just coughed up a 10-point fourth quarter lead in Charlotte the night before, the coach saw a number of signs from that game indicating that the team was headed in a positive direction, and he wanted the players to see that.
“I just think there’s little things that we can clean up,” Stevens said Tuesday afternoon following a brief practice and double film session. “As I thought, when I watched [the Charlotte game] again last night, it was a step in the right direction, which is encouraging but obviously still not where we want to be.”
One encouraging sign that Stevens noted was the team’s effort in transition. Boston’s bigs did a excellent job of running the floor, which led to a number of easy buckets and a 22-6 fast-break advantage.
On top of that, the Celtics had one of their better passing nights of the campaign, dishing out 31 assists, led by a season-high-tying 11 helpers from Kyrie Irving.
There were just two issues down the stretch that prevented the Celtics from holding onto their 10-point lead: offensive inconsistency, and Kemba Walker.
Boston’s offense was on point through the first three quarters, pouring in 92 points on 55.1 percent shooting, while dishing out 26 assists. The team’s efficiency tapered off during the final frame, however, as it closed out the game on a 7-of-19 shooting stretch.
Still, the Celtics had a strong shot selection for the majority of the matchup, and Stevens believes it’s only a matter of time before the ball starts falling through the net more consistently.
“We still haven’t had a game where we made shots (from start to finish),” he said. “The good news is that in my belief, those times are coming at some point, because we’re due.”
On the other side of the ball, Walker went off, scoring 21 of his game-high 43 points during the fourth quarter alone. Though, that really wasn’t the fault of Boston’s defense; it was more of a result of Walker being the hottest player in basketball right now. The Celtics tried everything to limit the NBA’s leading scorer, but as proven in his 60-point game Saturday night, he’s simply unstoppable right now.
“We guarded him a lot of different ways last night, and he still got downhill,” said Stevens. “It didn’t matter if we were up, if we were back, if we switched, whatever the case may be. He really had his way.”
With that aside, the Celtics could see from Monday’s game tape that they had made great strides from their frustrating, 98-86 home loss to the Utah Jazz Saturday night.
“I thought it was good for us to look at some of the things we need to keep working on,” said veteran big man Al Horford. “We felt like we played better (against the Hornets) than in the Utah game, but we just couldn’t pull the game off.”
The Celtics feel that it’s only a matter of time before they start pulling off wins more consistently, but they are also adamant about remaining patient. No one in the locker room is panicking during this rough patch, because they know that they’ll be able to sort things out as long as they keep working on their execution.
“We’ve still got so many more games left to figure it out,” said fourth-year point guar Terry Rozier. “I feel like we’re still connecting and getting better at playing with each other. We lost last night, but (there were) still a lot of positives we took away from it; a lot of things were flowing and we just came up short to a guy that’s very hot and that’s been playing great this season.
“So,” he continued, “I think we’ll get it together. And like coach said, we’re due for a lot of makes coming up, and that’s going to happen.”