BOSTON – There’s a certain level of tunnel vision Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens subscribes to when it comes to preparing for games.
What are those?
“If there weren’t Christmas trees and lights and everybody talking about Christmas, I wouldn’t even know what day it is,” Stevens said.
While most view Boston’s matchup today against the New York Knicks through the lens of playing on Christmas Day, Stevens is more concerned about figuring out how to get the Celtics (17-13) back on a winning track after losing 117-112 to Oklahoma City on Friday night.
And in New York (16-13), the Celtics face a team that’s nipping at their heels in the Eastern Conference standings after having won their last two games over Indiana and Orlando.
The Knicks are still led by Carmelo Anthony who is averaging a team-high 22.5 points per game. But they’ve also benefited greatly from the addition of ex-Bulls Joakim Noah (7.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists) and former league MVP Derrick Rose (16.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.4 assists). The Knicks also feature one of the league's most promising players in Kristaps Porzingis who continues to improve while playing a team-high 34.3 minutes this season. He's also delivering offensively while averaging 19.9 points to go with 7.6 rebounds and a team-high 1.8 blocked shots.
“I’m looking forward to getting back on the court on Sunday and competing,” Stevens said.
And while Celtics players have a similar mindset as Stevens towards today’s game, they acknowledge the game has a more special meaning to it because it’s being played on Christmas Day which will be Boston’s first Christmas Day game since a 93-76 win at Brooklyn in 2012.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” said Avery Bradley who played for the Celtics on Christmas Day as a rookie in 2010 but not in 2012 while still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. “We are playing against the New York Knicks, it’s going to be a nice crowd, nice atmosphere, and we just got to go out and have fun and get the win.”
Isaiah Thomas, who leads the Celtics in scoring (27.0) and ranks seventh in the NBA, said playing on Christmas Day was something he dreamed about as a little kid.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Thomas said. “The lights are really bright for those games. You have to be ready to put on a show and hopefully we can get a win.”
Amir Johnson was on a Detroit Pistons team that played on Christmas Day in 2005 during his rookie season. But Johnson spent that game doing what most fans were doing – watching.
So naturally he’s looking forward to today’s game.
“It means a lot to play on Christmas and have our families at the game,” said Johnson. “It’s big-time.”
And expensive too.
Players often bring their families with them for Christmas Day games which means additional hotel rooms, transportation costs and of course, more gifts needing to be purchased.
“I do my Christmas shopping online,” Johnson said, grinning. “But it is costly.”