BOSTON — In a raw and riveting press conference following his team’s latest head-shaking loss, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens offered a brutally honest assessment of his now-.500 team and admitted that Boston has shown few signs of being the title contender that they were so widely pegged to be.
Stevens opened his media session by offering high praise for a Knicks team that shot its way to as much as a 26-point lead before fending off a furious Celtics fourth-quarter charge in what was ultimately a wire-to-wire 117-109 triumph at TD Garden. But the conversation quickly steered to a Boston team that will wake up on Thanksgiving with a .500 record.
"I just don’t know that we’re that good. Maybe it’s not a wakeup call if you keep getting beat,” said Stevens. "We have to play better. It’s not because we’re not capable of being good. It’s not because we weren’t good at one time in our lives. It’s your good if you play good and the results are speaking for themselves.”
For seven-plus minutes, Stevens offered an unvarnished state of a union about a Celtics team that isn’t as good as the numbers suggest it is defensively and allowed Trey Burke to become the latest guard to scorch them with a loud individual performance.
So what exactly is ailing these Celtics?
“It’s not one guy. It’s not two guys. It’s all of us,” said Stevens. "We’re not playing with the same personality we played with last year. That’s the easiest way to describe it. And then the 50,000 issues that are below that, we have to tackle one at a time.”
What has changed from the personality of last year’s team, a group that surged to the fringe of the NBA Finals despite playing without two All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward?
"I think we all know it,” said Stevens. "I think we all know we hung our hat on things that led to winning and we’ve just got to get back to that.”
While Stevens has been critical of his team, he has drawn the ire of some Celtics fans for not being more exasperated with his team’s continued underperformance. While Stevens is not the type to stomp and scream about his team’s play, he’s realistic about their struggles. And during his postgame media session, he didn’t afford his team any excuses for their underwhelming play nearing the quarter pole of the 2018-19 season.
While painfully obvious, it was still jarring to hear Stevens acknowledge how deep Boston’s problems run. There is no simple solution to their woes and only a sustained multi-game effort is likely to get them on track. That’s no small request of a team that hasn’t even been able to play one complete 48-minute game.
Stevens was asked if there’s anything from earlier in his coaching career he can lean on for guidance this season. Stevens found a couple of examples.
"I thought where we brought everybody back my third year as a head coach and I thought we started off just kind of like this — up and down, but our defense was the one that was really hurting us,” said Stevens. "And what turned that around was we just decided to be nasty tough. And we just went with it. And, then, all of a sudden everything fell into place and we just put everything else aside and grit our teeth and played. And then, a couple years ago here, when we had mostly everybody back and we added Al [Horford] and we started off 11-11 or 12-12 or something like that and ended up with 53 wins.”
Turning his attention to this year’s team, Stevens was adamant that nothing would come easy, even with all the talent the 2018-19 Celtics possess.
"It’s not guaranteed that you’re going to be able to turn it around. The reality is you have to grind it out, you have to work, and you have to be able to weather all this other stuff that’s going along with it,” said Stevens. "I heard [Sixers coach] Brett Brown say this earlier in the year, and this is where coaches are sick in a twisted way, because the losing eats you alive.
"The storm is part of a job. And I’m looking forward to getting a chance to really dig in, and hopefully we can weather it.”
Then, when the final question of the session wondered if Stevens is better equipped to handle this sort of situation than earlier in his career, the coach turned introspective.
“[Thursday is] Thanksgiving, right? We all have a lot to be thankful for,” said Stevens. "We lost a basketball game. We got outplayed. We’ve lost a few in a row. It’s been a tough stretch. I think that we’ll work, and we’ll do our very best. And that’s always been good enough for me.
"You’re not going to have great days every day in this, and part of this job description is, like I said earlier, is weathering the storms. And so, this is a job, and we’ll work to correct everything we can. But we’re all so very thankful for all that we have, even on nights like tonight.”
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