BOSTON -- On the heels of stomach-churning losses to two of the NBA's bottom-feeders -- the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets -- over a 96-hour span, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens pinned the blame for his team's poor performances on himself Saturday and suggested that a Celtics turnaround begins with him.
"I just need to do a better job," Stevens said after the Celtics fell to the visiting Nets 100-97 at TD Garden. This is Boston's second loss in three games this season against a Brooklyn squad that will deliver its unprotected first-round draft pick to Boston in June.
"I mean, this is more on me. We’ve had multiple times where we’re just not playing to the standard we need to play to. We’ve had multiple practices where certain guys have really looked good and stood out because others haven’t. And that’s just bad coaching. I’ll get myself straightened out and I’ll work on what needs to be changed."
Like any coach, Stevens deserves some blame for being unable to get his team properly motivated against two inferior opponents and suggested he would "reassess things" because his team has been far too passive. That Boston came out lethargic against the Lakers might have been forgivable -- no team is immune to slow starts -- but to repeat the offense three days later against the Nets suggests that Stevens' message about being unable to overlook opponents never truly got through to his players.
You can nitpick with Stevens' rotation choices after he used all 12 available bodies on Saturday, but that was due in part to health, with Avery Bradley exiting early with a hip bruise and Marcus Smart still ramping back up from a knee injury. What's more obvious lately is that few players, particularly in Boston's frontcourt, are playing with the sort of consistency and sustained impact that might make it easy for Stevens to lean on a tighter rotation.
Ultimately, it's on Stevens to figure out how to get his players to display more focus and mental toughness than what's been on display this week. Boston started the final week of December riding a season-best, four-game winning streak and will roll into the first full week of January wondering how its swagger has disappeared yet again.
When told that Stevens had blamed himself for the team's struggles, Smart dismissed the notion and put the target on the players.
"That’s just Coach being Coach. He cares too much," said Smart. "He’s a competitor still, so he’s going to feel like it’s his fault, but, [ultimately], we’re the ones out there playing. He puts us in a great position to succeed and we failed on each other. We didn’t hold each other accountable out there on certain plays, myself included, and we just have to come together as a team."
Added Evan Turner: "There's a fine line between [blaming coach or players], in my personal opinion. I think what [Stevens] said earlier was kind of about the culture he has set and he felt like he let it slip a little bit. In that regard, I think we’re not kids. You know what I’m saying? We need to raise each other and just be pros, man. I think that’s the biggest thing is just being pros at the end of the day.
"You can point fingers or say we’re adults and we can control ourselves and control our actions and it’s our choice to make the most out of not-so-fine moments. You know what I’m saying? Just let it slide by when you have these inconsistent moments. I dig where he’s coming from in certain aspects. But, at the same time, we’re pros and we haven’t really done anything yet as a group and we just need to be consistently hungry."
The Celtics talked for two days after the Lakers game about how they played down to Los Angeles because of its record, and Boston players swore they knew they weren't good enough to get away with that. But it doesn't seem they learned, and there was obvious frustration in allowing the Nets to lead by as much as 13 before a feverish, late-game rally that ended with Jonas Jerebko's potential overtime-forcing 3-pointer finding iron in the final moments.
"We’re definitely not one of the best teams in the NBA, so I don’t get how we could possibly think it’s OK to play down to anybody," said Isaiah Thomas. "When we don’t play hard and we’re not the aggressive team, we’re one of the worst teams in the NBA. But when we bring that aggressiveness and we’re having fun and we’re defending, we’re one of the top teams in the NBA. I think a lot of people see that. So, somehow, some way, we’ve got to become more consistent."
Added Thomas: "If you’re a professional basketball player or a professional in any sport, you should bring it no matter who you’re playing collectively as a team. Some nights we just don’t do that and, the nights we don’t do it, we lose. If we don't understand that, sooner or later, we're not going to get anything we want out of this season."