After the Celtics lost to the Sacramento Kings on Friday — the latest in a series of disappointing losses that have defined their season — the team sat down and had a serious discussion about where it wanted to go next.
In recent press conferences, multiple players have referenced their desire to band together. The players on the roster like each other, and they want to succeed together. But after a loss to the league’s worst defense dropped their record to 20-21 with a grueling stretch of games looming, the team needed to talk about some things.
“We just kind of sat in the locker room and we just really self-reflected on each other,” Marcus Smart said on Sunday. “We asked each other, ‘How we want to end the season? How do we want to be remembered for this season?’”
The talk was productive. Players agreed that the losing felt ugly, and they wanted to right the ship. They just needed to figure out how.
“We don’t want to look back on this season and be like, ‘Damn, we could have did this,’” Smart said. “We still have time. It’s not a lot, the margin for it is closing, but we still have time to fix it and that’s what we are trying to do. We all came together and we all agreed that we want to evolve as a team and continue to learn and make each other better.”
The Celtics took a small but important step on Sunday, rolling over the Orlando Magic 112-96. Beating the Magic should be a baseline expectation — Orlando has lost nine of its last 10 and is rumored to be considering a fire sale of its talent before next week’s trade deadline.
Still, the Celtics overcame some of the issues that have plagued them. The bench contributed very little until garbage time. The fourth-quarter swoon ultimately turned out to be a fourth-quarter blip, as Jaylen Brown’s 3-point onslaught carried the Celtics through all four quarters.
Winning streaks have to start somewhere.
“This team has been in a funk in some ways with that stuff, but that’s not who they are,” Brad Stevens said. “We’ve watched these guys play, a lot of these guys play, for a long time. We’ve seen what they do when their backs are against the wall. We know that there’s never been a question with that kind of thing, so you just have to do that as a team if things aren’t going well. When you’re kind of in that funk, stop thinking about yourself and start leaning on each other.”
One win won’t right the ship completely, and the Celtics have some tough ones coming up. On Monday, they face the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a back to back before traveling to Milwaukee for back-to-back games against the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. By the weekend, the panic about the Celtics could certainly fall back to its previous levels.
In either case, Jaylen Brown hopes the team isn’t listening.
“I just told our guys to just focus on us, man,” he said. “Forget about what the media is saying, forget about what the fans are saying and just come out and play some good basketball and let’s see where the chips fall, and hopefully we can do that more — a lot more — for the rest of the season.”
Brad Stevens echoed Brown’s sentiments.
“Guys really, I thought, played with a great mindset today and shared it, played with good purpose, good passion, good togetherness,” Stevens said. “It was a step in the right direction, for sure. But put a few weeks, or a month, or two months together where it’s like that and we’ll be making good progress.”
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