WALTHAM, Mass. -- The way Jared Sullinger sees it, the Boston Celtics were like a computer that had run out of memory. The team played some of its most consistent basketball to start the month of December, but recently became prone to small periods of unresponsiveness (Pistons, Wizards) and then totally locked up (Pacers).
A three-day holiday break allowed for the rare in-season reboot.
"I think the biggest thing is just resetting your mind," said Sullinger, the Celtics power forward. "You get in overload, almost like a computer. It was good to hit control-alt-delete for a little bit."
The Celtics were back up and running on Thursday as the team reconvened for a 90-minute practice session at HealthPoint. They don't play again until the Cleveland Cavaliers visit TD Garden on Saturday afternoon, but the Celtics are eager to get back to playing the brand of basketball they displayed at the start of the month.
While first-year coach Brad Stevens did his best to get away from basketball during the break, he admitted it's impossible to let go, particularly after enduring a lopsided loss to the Indiana Pacers to usher in the recess.
"It didn't help going in with the sour taste of playing the way we did on Sunday," Stevens said. "The Pacers had a lot to do with that. The Pacers are a better basketball team than we are right now. But at the same time, we could have played better. And that's frustrating."
Stevens did caution against reading too much into Boston's struggles, considering the team had big first-half leads against Detroit and Washington before letting both games slip away. The Celtics would have felt a lot different heading into the break if they had won those games.
Even still, the stats show a Boston team that has taken some definite steps backward recently. Over the past three games, the team ranks 28th in offensive rating (95.5 points per 100 possessions), 23rd in defensive rating (109.2) and 27th in net differential (minus-13.7). Boston's rebounding rates are down and its turnover rate is up, two areas that had fueled the team's more consistent play.
Over the first seven games of December, the Celtics ranked fifth in offensive rating (108.1), 10th in defensive rating (101.2), and fourth in net rating (plus-6.9). They were a top-10 rebounding team (seventh in total rebound rate).
Stevens knows the difference between being a top-10 defense and a bottom-10 defense is maybe two stops per game. But that's easier said than done. "Now the key is, can you re-hone in and get those couple of stops per game?" asked Stevens.
The first-year coach wishes his team had played better in Indiana, but understands you have those sorts of nights in the NBA. That didn't make it any easier given all the people that Stevens knew in the stands for his return to his hometown.
"Everybody was at the game -- that was too bad, they probably could have spent their time better," quipped Stevens. "To be honest with you, they're probably all Pacers fans first, anyway. But it was great to see everybody, it really was, it was great."
Stevens spent 24 hours catching up with those old friends in Indy after the loss to the Pacers, then trekked with his family about five hours away to Cleveland to spend Christmas with Stevens' in-laws. He made sure to have a practice plan in place for Thursday, but did his best to otherwise ignore basketball.
His players did the same.
In nearby Columbus, Ohio, Sullinger said the only basketball he saw on Christmas Day was in his family's yard.
"All we did was play basketball in the driveway, even though it was like 14 degrees outside," he said. "My nephews kept challenging me, so it was a lot of fun."
Down in balmier Alabama, Gerald Wallace enjoyed the first Christmas dinner in his hometown since he was a senior in high school. He beamed proudly while talking about getting to enjoy Christmas dinner at his mother's home for the first time since 1999.
Wallace worried he might have enjoyed the holidays a little too much.
"I think those three days kind of makes you lazy," he said. "You know what I'm saying? You go home. You eat a lot. You want to sit around. You're as far away from basketball as you can possibly be. Coming back here, my mindset today, my main thing is I just wanted to go as hard as I could."
The Celtics seemed refreshed after the break and showed quality energy while wrapping up drills. A reboot is just what they needed. Now they just want their next game.