Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

Brad Stevens: Celtics need 'tougher mental mindset'

BOSTON – This Boston Celtics team was built to compete for a title in large part because of the talent that Danny Ainge and company assembled.

We’re 16 games into the season, and it’s not the talent that’s in question – it’s the team’s mental toughness.

Saturday’s 98-86 loss to Utah, Boston’s second defeat at the hands of the Jazz this month, wasn’t about another team having a great night at both ends of the floor.

It wasn’t about a superstar player having a game for the ages.

The Utah Jazz, playing the second night of a back-to-back just like the Celtics, simply played a more physical game.

And when it mattered, it was their mental toughness that prevailed.

Following the loss, it’s clear that the team’s inability to sustain any level of mental toughness for a long stretch of time, was among the many things at the forefront of his thoughts.

“We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have,” Stevens said. “I mean, we just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”

And that is a disturbing commentary when you consider that this team by and large, is the same team that Stevens had a year ago.

Actually, this group should be even better when you consider Kyrie Irving is in a much better state health-wise, and Gordon Hayward is continuing to inch closer to the All-Star player we knew prior to suffering a season-ending injury in the season-opener last year.

Despite the rise in overall talent, Boston (9-7) finds itself just two games over-.500 when so many anticipated they would run away with the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James has taken his talents to La-La land.

“We have to find ways to be good every night,” said Boston’s Gordon Hayward. “I felt like, we found a way to win (Friday) night (versus Toronto). It was an emotional win for us. Great teams bring it the next night. So, we have to be better.”

The concerns about mental toughness for this team manifest themselves, at least they did on Saturday, in how they handled a slew of missed shots that were open as well as contested looks.

Heads began to slump, eyes began to roll and for no significant period of time were they able to put their shooting troubles aside and do what you’re supposed to do in those situations – keep playing rather than sulk.

Boston shot below 40 percent from the field in every quarter except for the second as they connected on just 38.5 percent of their shots for the game.

Making a bad game even worse for Boston, was that their best scorer Kyrie Irving was in major foul trouble. He picked up his fifth personal foul in the third quarter at the 5:12 mark.

He returned in the fourth quarter and wound up leading the Celtics with 20 points, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the struggles of just about every other Boston scorer which is evident by the team’s No. 2 scorer for Saturday being Jayson Tatum who had just 10 points.

Regardless of whether you buy the mental toughness as an issue theory, one thing is abundantly clear with this Celtics team.

The things that they do well, are not being done consistently enough or with the kind of focus and fight that championship-caliber teams display.

And with those struggles have come what appears to be a gradual erosion of the team’s overall confidence.

“Maybe there’s something there, with that,” Stevens said. “I think there’s a lot of things that it could be, but at the end of the day, you know, you build confidence through doing hard things over and over and over, because that’s your focus. That’s your intent. Your job is your focus. You know what you’re supposed to do.

Stevens added, “you perform every assignment, you do it physically, you do it tough, and then all of a sudden, the ball goes in. It’s just kind of funny how it works. The game honors it.”

The bright spot: If there's a coach equipped to get the Celtics back on track, it's Stevens. Just ask his former player, Jazz forward Jae Crowder.

"Whatever they’re lacking, they can build as the season goes on," Crowder said Saturday night. "They just have to believe it, and believe in Brad. He’s able to bring that out of guys."

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Isaiah Thomas vows to 'get back to a level that I was playing at'

Isaiah Thomas vows to 'get back to a level that I was playing at'

It was only two years ago Isaiah Thomas enjoyed an MVP-caliber season with the Boston Celtics.

Since then, it's been a rough ride for the 5-foot-9 point guard. Thomas hasn't played a full season since 2016 largely due to a nagging hip injury, appearing in only 12 games with the Denver Nuggets in the 2018-19 campaign coming off hip surgery.

Now, as he prepares to enter free agency, Thomas believes he can put in the work to return to form as one of the league's top guards.

"Nobody knew what to expect with me coming off hip surgery last year, and two summers of rehab," Thomas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. "Now I can go back to being a gym rat this summer, work on my game again and build my body back up --- my muscle mass, my leg strength -- all like I had going into the 2017 season."

Although Thomas never got to contribute to the Nuggets at the level he had hoped, the 30-year-old lauds the organization for helping him get healthy.

"Denver allowed me to take really as much time as I needed, to get back to 100 percent health," he said.

Thomas averaged 28.9 points, 5.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds with the C's in 2016-17 before suffering the hip injury in the postseason and being traded to the Cavaliers in the offseason for Kyrie Irving. He was a second-team All-NBA selection that season and appeared well on his way to becoming a perennial All-Star before his career took a sudden turn.

Now, with those dark times in the rearview, Thomas is ready to prove he still has plenty of those incredible Celtics moments in him.

"I'm going to get back to a level that I was playing at," Thomas said. "I'm excited to show what I can do again."

We'll find out Thomas' new home soon enough, as NBA free agency begins on June 30.

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Reports: Kevin Durant sells his Calif. home, buys one in N.Y.

Reports: Kevin Durant sells his Calif. home, buys one in N.Y.

More real estate news to keep an eye on as NBA free agency approaches Sunday at 6 p.m.

Kevin Durant has sold his Malibu home, according to the Los Angeles Times, and, according to Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, he's bought a home in New York.

Durant, who is doubtful to play at all next season after tearing his Achilles' in his brief NBA Finals appearance with the Warriors, opted out of his contract with Golden State and will test free agency, where he'll reportedly meet with the Knicks and where rumors of him teaming with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn abound. 

Bucher, for what it's worth, had the report of Irving buying a home in South Orange, N.J., earlier this month.

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