BOSTON – Trailing 62-51 at the half, the Boston Celtics looked the part of a beaten, dejected team with no fight or fury, no will to win.
This was not the Boston Celtics team that head coach Brad Stevens knew.
And he didn’t mince words in letting them know how angry he was at their play.
They responded in the second half with tougher player at both ends of the floor, paving the way for a 109-104 win over Toronto after having trailed by as many as 18 points.
You can certainly credit Isaiah Thomas’ game-high 44 points (19 in the fourth) for helping Boston (31-18) extend its winning streak to five straight. You can point to the jump-ball won by Marcus Smart in the closing seconds that led to a pair of free throws by Thomas that would later prove to be the game-winning points.
The contributions from the bench were huge too.
But an upset Stevens at the half, maybe more than anything else, put the Celtics on the right path mentally to grind out a victory over a Toronto team that had beaten them in five of their previous six meetings.
It wasn’t the first time Stevens has gotten on his team about not playing at a level close to their ability, but it’s not something that happens with regularity according to players.
Amir Johnson said Stevens’ words, while a bit harsher than his usual halftime message, were exactly what the Celtics needed to hear at that moment.
“He was like, ‘they’re playing like they want it more,’’’ Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We realized we started off a little sluggish in the first; that was unacceptable. We just made up our minds and picked it up at halftime. That’s when we got aggressive, we started making shots and got to win.”
Johnson said Steven’s halftime message was yet another example of how the fourth-year coach connects with his players beyond play-calling.
“I feel like we know when we mess up, we know when we can do better,” Johnson said. “He (Stevens) realizes we talk among each other, and he puts it in the light, ‘you know you guys are [expletive] up; you have to pick it up.' He was really upset this game.”
But he channeled that anger in a positive way towards his players, the kind of example he likes to see them display in the heat of the game which his players did down the stretch in handing Toronto their seventh loss in their last nine games.
“Everybody knows Brad is one of the most calm dudes you would meet,” Smart said. “So when he’s fired up and he gets in you, it’s for a good reason.”