BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart knew there was no reason for anyone to believe the words coming out of his mouth. Heck, we’re not even sure if Smart believed them. But, on the heels of the latest impossibly bad outing for the 2018-19 Celtics, Smart put on a brave face and swore again this team will figure everything out.
"I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing -- ‘We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it’ -- but we can’t put extra extra extra stress and more weight on ourselves,” Smart said after a 115-96 loss to the visiting San Antonio Spurs.
The Celtics huddled as a team after the loss, with Smart suggesting the team watched film and (calmly) aired various grievances while trying to figure out why exactly the wheels have come off Boston’s defense.
After the rest of the locker room had cleared out, Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris emerged from a late-night confab outside the shower stalls. Given another lackluster performance from Boston’s defense, it was fair to wonder if we were going to get an angry Smart.
Instead, we got a very Kumbaya Smart. At one point, while pondering a question about the team’s eroded defense, Smart reclined back in his locker room chair, waiting a few moments, then stressed again the need to remain even keel.
"We got to take a deep breath, breathe, just relax — and then go out there and have fun and play basketball,” said Smart.
Coach Brad Stevens arrived noticeably tardy to his postgame press conference and, hesitating to call it a team meeting, admitted there had been another exchange of ideas following Sunday’s game.
Stevens admitted how, “there’s frustration in,” Boston’s locker room and pleaded for his team to remove itself from the “emotional roller coaster” it’s been riding this entire season. He wants his team to better respond to adversity if it’s going to claw itself out of the hole it’s dug.
"I think that, ultimately, perseverance, grit, … your mettle, it all shows when things are tough,” said Stevens. “Ultimately, that’s what we all get paid for. It’s not just about riding the wave of the good times and the praise and the pats on the back. It’s about buckling down when things are hard, getting back up off the mat, writing your own ending, and doing everything you can to be the best you can when it’s all on the line. You hope that these are all things that we can take with us. "
The Celtics coughed up a big lead on Saturday night and fumbled away a much-needed win with some undisciplined basketball in the fourth quarter. As this year’s team is wont to do, Kyrie Irving compounded matters by expressing frustration with the way the team covered Kemba Walker, forcing Stevens to address the criticism before Sunday’s game.
Alas, by the time LaMarcus Aldridge’s near-50-point explosion was complete, Irving’s criticism was the least of the team’s problems. Still, instead of compounding matters, Irving took the Smart/Stevens approach and balanced an admission that Boston has not played well with a hope the team can still figure this all out — despite the lack of practically any evidence to suggest as much.
"I never worry about how we'll respond,” said Irving. "We’ve proven that. We just have to be consistent with that and be committed to it, that's all. We have a lot of great guys in this locker room and they are committed to winning. We have winners in this locker room as well, so I'm never worried about trying to go back and respond with these guys.
"They are a resilient group who have proven that for the last year and a half we've been together. It hasn't been pretty all the time but we've always tried to find a way to figure it out and get the most out of each other. It starts with me and it trickles down to the rest of our leaders on this team. You just got to be committed and it starts with me.”
It’s hard to buy what the Celtics are selling, and even Stevens understands that.
"I don’t think we’ve given any reason to suggest that [Boston can figure it out] right now,” said Stevens. “But I think, ultimately, we’ll see how the rest of this story plays itself out.”
Stevens lamented how the Celtics tend to let their shot-making (or lack thereof) impact their defensive intensity. It’s not hard to see the correlation. When Boston is feeling good about made shots, it tends to expend more energy on the defensive end. When shots don’t drop, these Celtics seem indifferent about defense, get gouged in transition, and routinely allow runs to snowball out of control.
Consider this: The Celtics shot 20 percent beyond the 3-point arc Sunday, connecting on just 7 of 35 attempts. Despite clearly looking fatigued on the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics fired away from deep.
This team wants everything to come easy and it never does. The story of the 2018-19 Celtics will be written based on whether Boston is willing to put in the effort necessary to rid this team of all its bad habits. And pouting when the offense scuffles is chief among that.
"Winning’s hard,” said Irving. "Team environments are hard. It’s not as simple as just listening to everybody else speak about what’s going on with our team, it’s hard being a professional athlete. Being in a team environment and wanting to accomplish something very great.
"Everyone always wants to say, ‘Oh, you need to do this, you need to do that.’ Nobody f—ing knows. … For me, my focus is figuring out the guys I have in this locker room. How to get the best out of them, and them to get the best out of me. It’s been hard, but it’s a challenge worth fighting for, because the end result is standing on that stage.”
Irving admitted maintaining that patience isn’t easy but knows the reward could be that much sweeter.
"I’m used to gearing up for something bigger than myself around this time, and what it takes, and I have to do a better job of communicating that to my teammates and being a better listener and kind of figuring out how to best communicate with those guys that point,” said Irving. "At this point of the season, I’m on the versa-climber, I’m on the treadmill, I’m getting ready to play 40-plus minutes and get ready for the wars and battles. …
“We’re still developing as a team, it’s been a whole season doing so, but there’s light at the end of all this. That’s probably where my patience will always lie, is knowing that something’s beyond this. This challenge is happening for a reason, and I’ve got to believe in that.”
Unfortunately, it’s hard for everyone else to believe these Celtics at this point.
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