BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- As the final horn sounded and the Boston Celtics headed back to the locker room following their 109-102 loss to Brooklyn, an impromptu team discussion ensued with one voice - Kyrie Irving - doing most of the talking.
Out with a quadriceps injury in Monday’s loss to the Nets, Irving witnessed from the sideline what all of us on hand saw in the fourth quarter.
And that was a scrappy, hard-playing, gritty brand of Celtics basketball that when the dust finally settled, was yet another performance that was best characterized as too little, too late.
It was the kind of effort Irving implored his teammates to bring to the floor going forward, with more consistency.
And Irving's message by all accounts was well received by his teammates.
“It’s the honest truth,” said Jayson Tatum who had a career-high 34 points against the Nets. “He knows what it takes to win a championship, and most of us don’t. Sometimes you gotta be brutally honest in this profession to get the best out of an individual.”
"Sometimes you gotta be brutally honest in this profession to get the best out of an individual." - #Celtics Jayson Tatum on Kyrie Irving's message to the team following Monday's loss to the #Nets. pic.twitter.com/8qnud0Xmlt— A. Sherrod Blakely (@ASherrodblakely) January 15, 2019
Prior to the game, I asked Irving about what he was hoping to see from his teammates against the Nets with him not out there with them.
“Take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “That’s what it really comes down to.”
Boston fell behind by as many as 27 points before mounting a furious fourth-quarter rally in which Brooklyn’s lead was down to as little as seven points (105-98) with 1:28 to play after a driving finger roll by Jaylen Brown who finished with 22 points filling in for Marcus Smart (sick).
The Celtics would not get any closer.
But the late surge validated what the Celtics coaching staff have been imploring their roster to do all season, which is to play harder, longer and the results will be better more times than not.
While the Celtics don’t want Irving or any player to have to point out the need to play more consistently after every game, Marcus Morris recognizes the value of it from time to time.
“It’s very important,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s the one thing that has been our biggest downfall this year, is the game-by-game attitude. We’re just, if we play good this game we’re feeling good. It’s the sign of a good team when guys can play games, lay an egg, it’s over. Next game, we’re gonna make them pay. That’s our biggest hurdle right now.”
Brad Wanamaker was among the Celtics who said Irving’s post-game message was well received by the team.
“Everything’s group; we talk to each other and tell each what we can improve upon as a group,” said Wanamaker who had a career-high 13 points against the Nets. “It was a positive message. We want to do what we did the last minute, from the jump.”
But the balancing act for Irving and any of the veterans who are more likely to speak on such topics is to keep the discussion informative, supportive and not come across sounding too preachy.
“I just think it’s a want-to thing,” Morris said. “You either want to or you don’t want to. I’m not the type, ‘you don’t understand,’ I’m not that type. You can play hard, you can control what you do out there. That’s just it. It’s not an age limit on playing hard, or wanting to win.”
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