Celtics’ resiliency put to the test
The Celtics carried the burden of a two-game losing streak into Game 5 Monday night against Toronto.
Where they had been, couched in terms of history after their 2-0 start — Celtics teams are 39-1 after winning the first two games of a playoff series — they were in a toss-up situation Monday.
“One of the things we’ve talked a lot about is special groups — and if you want to be special it’s only reserved for a few, right? Special groups have a great resiliency about them,” said coach Brad Stevens. “They’re able to compartmentalize what went well, what didn’t go well, and say ‘I’m going to come back and be the best I can be,’ and realize it’s not going to be perfect.
“I realize this is part of competition, and being in this arena, and special is being able to get back off the mat. That’s the fun part of it. To win a game against Toronto, you’re going to have to play your butt off and earn it. When we’re at our best it’s the same way against us. Ultimately this is just part of the fun. Resist all the stuff that doesn’t matter, don’t pay attention to that, pay attention to how we can be the best we can be, and just go out there and fight.”
That means avoiding distractions — not to say that the Orlando bubble is anything but a closed, focused environment. Then again, there’s always social media.
“I don’t pay much attention,” said Stevens. “There’s a lot bigger adversities in the world right now than losing a couple of games in a row. We have a chance to hoop tonight. We’re going to come out and give it our best shot, and that’s what we’re going to do. Our guys are excited about that, excite to be here, perspective’s good. That’s what we’ll try to do.”
Kyle Lowry, mainly responsible for the Raptors coming back in this series, operated on the NBA fringes prior to Toronto’s run for a title last year.
“I said going into this series that he’s an all-star, but he might be the most underrated player in the league,” said Stevens. “I just think he’s a terrific defender, terrific leader, terrific effort player — offensively he puts you in a bind by getting fouled, making tough shots. He does every little thing that helps teams win. Somehow he’s been underappreciated. The more people watch him in these settings, the more he’s appreciated. He’s an amazing player, and certainly is a big engine for them.”
Focus on shooting
The Celtics starters were praying for a thaw Monday night, especially from downtown, where they were averaging only 8.5 makes per game over the last two games, including a 20% 3-point performance in Game 4.
But it has little to do with the quality of looks they have been getting, according to Stevens. It’s been their shortcomings on defense, and especially at the start of the first and third quarters, that have sabotaged the offense. Their defense simply hasn’t produced enough easy looks.
“I think the biggest thing is we have to defend better at the start of the first and third quarters. That’s something we’re paying close attention to for sure,” said the Celtics coach. “And then that helps you get down the court, helps you get into space, and then you get better looks. I thought we got good looks at the start of the third for sure, and in the first. It wasn’t bad, so we just have to keep playing the right way on offense and make it as tough as possible. But defensively we have to be better, especially in transition in those two quarters.