The sting of the Boston Celtics' Game 3 loss to the Toronto Raptors was a fresh wound unlike any other they had experienced in the playoffs Bubble.
The pain of losing Game 3 in such heartbreaking fashion was not lost on the Celtics players or coaches.
But in those moments of reflection since then, their thoughts have centered around not so much what happened but more on what’s on the horizon.
On to Game 4 was the mantra of the Celtics moments after the Game 3 loss, the kind of movin' on mindset we've come to associate with another New England pro team, the New England Patriots and their leader Bill Belichick.
“Obviously it was painful to lose a game like this,” said Boston’s Daniel Theis whose dunk with 0.5 seconds to play in Game 3 was expected to be the game-winning play for the Celtics. “But it should have never come to that situation."
If there’s any one lesson for Boston to take away from Game 3 that should help going forward, it’s the importance of focusing on your job from the opening tip-off to the final horn sounding.
In the Game 3 loss, there was a miscommunication among the Celtics in the final half-second that allowed Kyle Lowry to toss the pass to the opposite side of the floor with 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall defending the inbounds pass, to OG Anunoby whose catch-and-shoot 3-pointer just before the final horn sounded lifted Toronto to a last-second win.
But before that play, the Celtics had a double-digit lead at the half that Toronto steadily chipped away at in the third quarter to make the fourth a much closer game than Boston felt it should have been.
That’s why for the Celtics, the focus in Game 4 has little to do with adjustments to what Toronto is doing and everything to do with them simply doing what they do best, a little better.
“It’s all about us,” Theis said. “We have to play better … so we won’t get in a situation like this, to lose a game by a last shot.”
Having that on-to-the-next-one mindset even after wins, has been instrumental to the Celtics maintaining a level head through what they fully anticipated would be a playoff run filled with a certain amount of highs and lows.
“Our guys have had a great approach through all the early wins with regard to improving from film, and get better and play a little bit better the next game,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “That’s what you try to do again. This is part of it. (Game 3) was a tough loss but our mindset is to move on from the game before. We feel like there’s things we can do better. We’ll keep working to be better.”
It would be understandable for the Celtics players to be upset at the lost opportunity they had to take a 3-0 series lead which would have all but sealed their trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four years.
However, Boston's Marcus Smart said the players aren’t angry heading into Game 4.
“What it is, it’s extra fuel,” Smart said of the Game 3 loss. “We know we could have been a lot better. This is our first loss in the bubble in the playoffs. When you lose it puts a bad taste in your mouth. And we want to get back and redeem ourselves, so (Game 4) for us should be a fun game.”
Which is exactly the mindset the Celtics need to have as a collective unit if they are to fully embrace the Belichickian way of life and bounce back with a Game 4 victory.