BOSTON - Tough times never last, but tough people do. -- Robert H. Schuller
It's a great quote, and sounds like a good book, too. Celtics coach Brad Stevens may or may not keep it next to his bed at night, but he sure hopes it's true.
The Celtics lost again Sunday night, this time by a 107-102 score, for the 50th time this season. With that loss, Stevens finds himself on a list he definitely doesn't want to be on . . . but with a few names that make it a little easier to accept. Only six teams in franchise history have lost 50 or more games in a season, and Stevens now shares this "distinction" with coaches from 1977-78 (Tommy Heinsohn and Tom Sanders), 1978-79 (Sanders and Dave Cowens), 1993-94 (Chris Ford), 1996-97 (M.L. Carr), and 2006-07 (Doc Rivers).
But Stevens isn't moping around and kicking rocks around the TD Garden. He's trying to keep the right attitude and do what good coaches do: lead their team through trying times.
That said, it does get to him.
"I've been pretty frustrated, but it is what it is," Stevens said. "The one thing I've got to do [is] set the tone. . . as hard as I can. So that's what I'm going to do, and our guys are going to continue to do that . . . it's not easy to be the team that's 23-and-whatever we are. But your real mettle comes out at those times, too. Who you are comes out at those times. So I want to make sure I do my best to lead by example. I am frustrated by the loss and I'm more frustrated by how we played in those other moments."
The Celtics and Bulls were neck-and-neck all night. But late in the game, poor execution doomed the C's once again. Boston turned the ball over three times with under 1:20 to go: Kelly Olynyk's inbounds pass went to Jimmy Butler, Jeff Green committed an offensive foul, and Rajon Rondo lost the ball out of bounds. Those turnovers are uncharacteristic for those players, but they're enough to haunt Stevens.
"Hey, that happens," Stevens said, "but we’ve all got to get better at executing and, again, there’s no fault in effort. When it’s detail-oriented, then the nice part about that is we can get better. And I know we’ve got nine games left, you’ve got two weeks left, and it’s kind of like, ‘Well, how much better can you really get?’ Well, something adds up at the end of all this, and we’ve got to . . . we’ve got to make sure that we keep plugging and keep identifying areas where we’re not performing, and that was the case."
The good news is that Stevens hasn't lost the locker room, despite the losses piling up. He has some help in that with his captain, Rondo, who is keeping the right attitude and setting the example for his teammates.
“It’s a little déjà vu, but I’m not discouraged at all," Rondo said. "You could look at it a couple different ways, but we hate losing . . . I don’t walk around with my head down. I try to go as hard as I can each time I’m on the floor. Try to do the same thing in practice, got to keep chugging away and keep fighting.””
Stevens has now lost more games with the Celtics than in his entire tenure as head coach at Butler. While it was probably expected, it's still got to be a shock to the system.
The state of the Celtics roster is certainly a question mark going into next season, but Stevens' job status isn't. He'll be coaching the team next season, and will be a much stronger person and coach having gone through what he's gone through this season.
"I'm getting a lot better at this," Stevens said. "Our team's going to get a lot better as a result of this. And that's hard to process in the midst of it. But I had a great coach tell me the toughest times are the ones that help form you and make you better. I believe that, but it's hard to think that right now."