Celtics respond in second half after fiery halftime speech from Stevens

Celtics respond in second half after fiery halftime speech from Stevens

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.”

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

AP Photo

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

It seems all season we’ve talked about the Boston Celtics overcoming adversity, whether it be a bad injury to a key player or a blown assignment leading to a loss.

Nowhere is this more apparent than their play on the road this season which ranks among the best in the NBA.

The Celtics will look to continue on their road warrior-like ways tonight at New Orleans, a team that’s fighting for playoff position in the tighter-than-usual Western Conference.

In recent years, the terrain has been rough for teams from the East venturing into Western Conference territory.

For this year’s Celtics?

Not so much.

Boston comes into tonight’s game with a 17-7 record against Western Conference teams, tops among all teams in the East.

And while Boston has eight road games left this season, they are on pace to finish with one of the best road records in franchise history.

Currently 24-9 away from the TD Garden (tops in the East, third overall in the NBA), that’s a winning percentage of .727 which is the fourth-highest in franchise history.

Here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on when the Boston Celtics take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.


It’s a given that Al Horford will spend time defending Anthony Davis tonight. And while Davis will likely have a strong night scoring the ball, you can count on Horford making it extremely tough on him. When the two teams met on Jan. 16, Davis was 8-for-19 shooting for 16 points in 52 possessions when defended by Horford. For the game, Davis had 45 points on 16-for-34 shooting.


We’ve seen “Playoff" Rondo and “National TV" Rondo deliver some impressive performances in the past. What will we see from “Well-Rested” Rondo? The Pelicans gave the ex-Celtic the night off on Saturday as to not play him in back-to-back games. Of the two games, it made sense to sit him against the Rockets and have him ready to roll against a Boston Celtics team that will not have its full complement of players available.


Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had some choice words about the officiating in New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday that he clearly felt cost his team a better chance at winning. The only cost in play now is how big will the check be that he’ll pay the league for his comments about the officiating. His issue was that Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough calls based on the physical abuse he takes per game. Davis ranks fourth in the NBA in free throw attempts (7.8) per game, but only had four attempts against the Rockets. It’ll be worth watching whether the Pelicans, 16th in the league in free throw attempts (21.4) per game, will get to the line significantly more or less than their season average.


One of the keys to Boston’s improved play since returning to the floor since the all-star break, has been their ability to begin games with strong play. Boston has outscored their opponent in the first quarter each of the last eight games, and 10 of 11. In addition, Boston has been ahead at the half in each of their 10 games since the all-star break, which comes on the heels of trailing at the half in the seven games prior to the break.


Jayson Tatum has been one of the most impactful rookies in the NBA this season which will likely land him a spot on the NBA’s all-rookie first or second team. One of the strengths of Tatum has been his durability, evident by him being one of just two first-year players to appear in each of his team’s games played this season. He is joined by Memphis’ Dillon Brooks.


WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]