Long after Brad Stevens had finished talking about the Celtics’ need for toughness, one of his former players stood in what had become a quiet Utah dressing room and was even more pointed.
Jae Crowder had spoken in some larger terms with multiple reporters around, noting the Celts’ wealth of scorers and adding that everything should be all right in time.
But as his audience dwindled to one, Crowder got specific.
“Obviously they have a lot of offensive players that can really score the ball. But you have to have guys that do their dirty work. Marcus can’t do it all by himself,” he said of former teammate and still friend Marcus Smart. “You’ve all got to buy into it, I feel like. And that’s one of the problems they’re going through right now.”
Crowder had just seen the Celtics engage the Jazz in battle for part of the night, but fade away in the effort department when all those offensive players were chipping the paint off the Garden’s rims.
There was a disquieting measure of give-up as Utah went for three lob dunks. The sight of the Celts allowing their missed shots at one end to sap their desire to perform at the other was frustrating to Stevens and the crowd that had hoped to see the C’s build off their nice win on Friday against Toronto.
The Greenhearts were hoping the Raptor game signaled a turnaround from an uneven start to the campaign. Instead, they saw their Celtics spin the steering wheel on Saturday, heading back toward the ditch that lines the side of the long NBA season. Heading into tonight’s game in Charlotte, the club is a middling 9-7.
Crowder, who got his career in gear in two-plus seasons with the Celts, believes his old club simply has to get its head right.
“When you’ve got so many guys that can score the ball, you really don’t want to get down and defend,” he said. “You really don’t want to get down and dive for balls. You really don’t want to fight through screens every play.
“But championship teams do that. Look at the Warriors. They have guys that can do that. They have guys that want to do that. They understand their roles, and they do it at a high level.”
Still, Crowder thinks it would be foolish to think the C’s can’t or won’t live up to their potential.
“They’ve got a lot of pieces,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of pieces that have to gel together. That’s not going to happen overnight.
“It’s very do-able. I mean, the Celtics are a tough team. And when you’ve got Brad leading the way, I feel like anything is possible for them.”
Earlier, the rugged forward was hitting on a similar theme with reporters.
“Those guys are really a heck of an offensive unit,” Crowder said. “They can score it a lot of different ways. They score with a lot of variety. I think they can build that as the season goes on. Whatever they’re lacking, they can build as the season goes on. They just have to believe it and believe in Brad. He’s able to bring that out of guys.”
Crowder was one of those guys. His last run with the Celtics included a trip to the 2017 Eastern Conference finals. It was a team that overachieved in many ways because of some of the qualities the current C’s are lacking at the moment.
“We just said, ‘Forget what the outside is talking about. We’re going to play how we want to play. We’re going to dictate the game how we want to dictate it and deal with the losses and learn from them and come out and try to give our best effort.’ I feel like effort is something that was always there with us,” Crowder said.
“Sometimes we fell short, but the effort was always there. It came from our leadership from Al [Horford] and from IT [Isaiah Thomas] and myself. We knew we just wanted the best from everybody. We wanted everybody to play their hardest and play their best.”
The 2018-19 Celtics want the same things. It’s just not happening right now — at least not nearly on a consistent enough basis.