BOSTON -- Boston Celtics swingman Evan Turner said the way an angry Brad Stevens stomped hinto the locker room at halftime of Friday's game caused him to jump. The Celtics had just endured a head-shaking end to a dreadful first half in a game they absolutely could not afford to lose in their quest for a postseason berth and Stevens let his team know their play was unacceptable.
"I never heard Brad really curse, and he cursed us out pretty good," said Turner. "I don’t know who came in our locker room, but he came in and started screaming. I jumped. We needed to get it under wraps.
"I knew he was pretty upset. I heard we have no food on the plane [to Indianapolis for Saturday's game], so I’m pretty sure at halftime he called for no food. Hopefully we don’t have to get him that mad again."
It wasn't always pretty, but riding Turner's 30-point outburst, a jolt from break-in-case-of-emergency point guard Phil Pressey, and (finally) playing with the sense of desperation that it lacked early in Friday's game, Boston erased an 11-point deficit over the final 13 minutes to emerge with a 95-88 triumph over the Orlando Magic at TD Garden.
With the win, Boston moved within 1 game of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with 18 games to play. On Saturday, they'll joust with a Pacers team that sits just 2 games up while currently positioned as the seventh seed.
Stevens was back to his typically composed self after Friday's game and actually seemed to savor the way his team fought back on a night it couldn't seem to do much of anything right for the the first 3+ quarters.
"I think this is one of the best wins we've had and the reason is we didn't have it," said Stevens. "We didn't have it and we had to figure it out. We had to find a way and that's not easy."
Stevens has been bombarded recently with questions about his team and a potential playoff push. Unlike many coaches, Stevens acknowledged that he knows where his team stands in that postseason quest and has encouraged his young team to embrace the idea of playing to extend their season.
Asked Friday how much fun it is for his team to be part of a playoff push, Stevens made sure to stress that, even as the the team endures the pains that come with this rebuilding process, the postseason remains an expectation for this organization.
"Well, they play for the Boston Celtics, so I hope it’s something that they expect to do," said Stevens. "I hope it’s something that they continue to take pride in, just playing well.
"I don’t get too focused on -- I know where we are generally, but I don’t know like how many games we’re out, who plays who on a given night, or those type of things. But I know we’re in the mix, but trailing. I think our guys are kinda the same way. I don’t hear a lot of talk about, well, so-and-so is playing this team tonight and if they lose and we win -- I don’t hear that. Maybe they talk about it, but I don’t hear it. I think they’re finding more excitement in playing well. Hopefully we continue to do that."
The Celtics were downright dreadful for much of the first three quarters on Friday night. But what really set Stevens off was a sequence at the end of the first half. Boston botched a potential 2-for-1 situation and gave Orlando the opportunity for the half's final possession. All five Boston players watched as Victor Oladipo burst to the rim for a layup with 2.3 seconds to go.
Stevens called timeout to draw up a play looking to dent an eight-point deficit. Marcus Smart threw a baseball pass as Kelly Olynyk sprinted past midcourt, but the second-year big man stepped out of bounds while collecting the ball near the sideline. The Magic got to inbounds beneath their own basket and no one stepped out to defend Tobias Harris, who drilled a 21-foot jumper to send Orlando into the break up 50-40.
You could see the steam coming out of Stevens' ears as he walked off the court looking like he had just bit into an oversized lemon. Evidently the 100-yard walk and a brief halftime TV interview did little to calm him down as Turner suggested he unloaded on his team at the intermission.
"We were messing up a little bit," said Turner. "We weren’t helping each other too much. Some of our plays were lackadaisical. [Stevens] thought we were playing too cool ... especially versus a team that beat us [on Sunday]. So he didn’t really like the demeanor and our expression and we really had to kick into another gear."
That didn't happen immediately. The Celtics stumbled their way through the third quarter unable to make a sustained charge. Boston was down 11 with under a minute to play in the frame and had turned to a Hack-an-Elf strategy believing the only way to slow Orlando rookie point guard Elfrid Payton (20 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds) was to put him at the charity stripe (it worked; he was 4-for-15 shooting at the line).
Boston trimmed its deficit to six heading to the final frame and that's when Turner took over. After missing his first five shots of the game, he made 12 of his final 15 attempts. He scored 16 fourth-quarter points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting, including an 18-foot jumper with 5:22 to play that tied the game and a floater with 2:33 to play that gave Boston its first lead of the second half.
Turner simply could not miss as Boston pulled away over the final two minutes.
"I get more comfortable down the stretch when it comes to big-time moments, big-time plays," said Turner. "It's always been that way. I think it's easier for me to lock in, to a certain extent, and obviously I already had it going a little bit. Once the fourth quarter hit, I took my shots."
Stevens saved special praise for Pressey, the 5-foot-11 point guard who has played sparingly this season. Pressey gave Boston a spark each time he stepped on the floor, both in terms of creating for others and for himself.
"The guy who spearheaded the whole night was Phil Pressey," said Stevens. "Evan carried us in with his scoring; Phil Pressey’s defense was huge and Phil Pressey getting out on the break was huge. And then his ability to get to the foul line, break people down off the dribble, get to the rim a couple times when we’d got nothing going was huge.
"And I just credited [Pressey] in our locker room. He didn’t play for a month. But he was a pro, and we’ve talked about that with him all the time, but usually he’s gotten a chance to play. But him responding and just being ready is a real testament to Phil."
And how Boston responded Friday is a testament to this team. The Celtics have now won five of their last six (the only loss coming against Orlando when Boston blew a 20-point lead on Sunday) and eight of their last 11 overall. More importantly, Boston keeps finding a way to make big plays late in close games.
The food issue on the plane? That remedied itself before takeoff. But it wouldn't have been a bad idea for Stevens to use some of his Indianapolis connections to get a late-night delivery from St. Elmo's Steak House.
Their shrimp cocktail sauce is about as spicy as Stevens' halftime pep talk.