Raising their mental game?

WALTHAM, Mass. -- A day after the Boston Celtics overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Brooklyn Nets in a preseason game, Jared Sullinger offered an eyebrow-raising reaction to the rally.

"Last year, this team would have laid down and given up. Game's over," suggested Sullinger. "Now, we're just fighting."

Laid down? Given up? A Brad Stevens-coached team? That sounds a bit like basketball blasphemy.

Heck, there were times last season when deadline-leery reporters would sigh as Stevens called a series of late-game timeouts to draw up plays with his team facing seemingly insurmountable deficits. Stevens practically wore a trench in front of the Boston bench while going offense/defense on late-game substitutions. These Celtics rarely rallied all the way back from big deficits, but they sure had a habit of making things interesting.

Did Sullinger really feel like this team gave up at times last season?

"If things were not going our way, we really weren't playing well," Sullinger clarified before Tuesday's practice. "I think that's the biggest thing. When things went bad, we didn't respond well. This year, we want to learn how to fight through that."

You can understand where Sullinger is coming from. The Celtics went 6-21 after the All-Star break last season, and there were certainly times when the team seemed defeated when games simply started to slip away. There's no denying that Boston struggled to respond to adversity.

And that's one area where the Celtics absolutely must make strides in this season. Stevens wants his players to remain composed when the road gets bumpy and find ways to keep the bus on course even when the wheels come off.

Which is why the second-year coach seemed to take an extra bit of satisfaction from Sunday's win in Brooklyn. Oh sure, it was just a preseason game, and an experimental 44-minute one at that, but his players twice showed the sort of resolve that escaped them last year.

"There's a lot of things that we can do on both ends of the floor to get better, but I was happy with how we responded [Sunday]," said Stevens. "Being down 17, coming back, taking the lead, then [the Nets] take the lead and we respond again. That showed some growth."

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