Like we said: Celtics in 6

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Like we said: Celtics in 6

Before the start of the CelticsHawks series, there was a legitimate consensus as to where this thing was headed.

Celtics in 6.

It was such a safe, easy and logical prediction.

Celtics in 6.

Once it hit your lips, it was so good.

Celtics in 6.

And we were all drinking it in.

So while no ones entirely surprised by the fact that we sit here today, after six games, with the Hawks in the rearview mirror and the Sixers (OK, THATs a surprise) in our sights, lets take a second to reflect on how we got here. Because even if the Celtics end result is about what we expected, the path they took to get here was anything but.

Game 1 was less than two weeks ago, but it feels more like two months, what with Al Horford and Ray Allen both long shots to see the court, with KG looking older than Hubie Brown, with the Hawks trotting out a starting line-up that featured Jason Collins and Kirk Hinrich, yet somehow dictating every aspect of the game. Bostons eventual comeback was canceled out by Rondo's ridiculous chest bump. He was tossed, the Celtics lost and you wondered if that might be it. But obviously, it was just the beginning.

Pierce threw the Cs on his back in Game 2, before Tebowing at center court. KG saved the day in Game 6, before psychologically-destroying a billionaire at the post game podium.

And in between, there was chaos.

Injuries to Pierce, Josh Smith and Avery Bradley. The return of Horford and Allen. Run-ins with Ed Malloy, Joey Crawford, Billy Boy Kennedy, Mitty Boy Romney and a brief but terrifying encounter with 2005 T-Mac. We saw significant minutes, at various times, from Erick Dampier and Marquis Daniels. We saw SO MUCH ISO Joe. A little bit of "No. 2 Overall" Marvin. At the end of Game 5, we saw Rondo steal the ball a poor man's Bird against the Pistons! before proceeding to dribble into a corner, pass the ball out of bounds, throw on a patent zebra-skin coat and nearly accost a cameraman.

Looking back, who would've thought that wed see Ray Allen shoot 57 from the foul line while Rondo shoots 50 from three-point land? That Keyon Dooling would score more than twice as many points as Mickael Pietrus? That Ryan Hollins would steal Greg Stiemsmas spot in the rotation, Brandon Bass crunch time minutes and the key to Doc Rivers heart? That Kevin Garnett would average 18.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, shoot 50 from the field, 88 from the line and average nearly 38 MINUTES a night? That we'd see the Celtics desperately try to give away TWO home games, and come damn close on both occasions?

Man, saying Celtics in 6 was so easy, wasn't it?

Watching them do it was a two-week anxiety attack.

But that's the playoffs. Things change from day-to-day, game-to-game, possession-to-unbearable-possession. There are so many times when you're so sure of everything; when it all makes sense. Two seconds later, nothing is real. I've used this analogy before but it's like constantly running back and forth between the hot tub and the pool. Every time, you know it's coming. Every time, it's such a shock to your system. After a while, you can lose your mind.

I remember my dad sending me a text down the stretch in Game 5. This was long before Rondo's steal, but after the Celtics had woken up and started to make their run.

"Crazy game."

I wrote back: "Yeah, I can't believe they're still in this."

I put down the phone, thought about what I'd just said, and shook my head:

I can't believe they're still in this?

What the hell?

Didn't we just spend the last 48 hours digging Atlanta's grave? Weren't we all so unbelievably sure that the Hawks had already quit?

Now I can't believe that the Celtics are even in the game?

But that's the way it was. Right down to last second of last night.

It will go down in the book as Celtics in 6, but we know it was much more than that. We also know that the Celtics will bare the scars from this series for the rest of their playoff run.

They may have escaped, but not without an injured Paul Pierce, a re-injured Avery Bradley and a sure-to-be-aching Ray Allen. Not without asking and taking A LOT from Kevin Garnett. Obviously, it could be worse, but the Celtics at least physically are not in great shape.

But again, that's the playoffs.

It's just as much about survival as it is skill.

The Magic lost Dwight Howard they're gone. The Bulls lost Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah they're gone. The Knicks lost Iman Shumpert, Baron Davis and a little bit of Amare Stoudemaire they're gone. And you know what? Had the Hawks played with Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia for the entire series

Whatever.

It doesn't matter.

Those teams are done.

The Celtics survived.

In six games, just like we all thought. But in six games we never could have imagined.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

OFFSEASON

Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

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Mental training is the secret to Jaylen Brown's development

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.

“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.

Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively. 

The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.

In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.

While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.

“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”

We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.

However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.

Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.

And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.

“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”

And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.

“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”

Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.

In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.

“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”

Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.

In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.

“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”

Ah yes, the process.

If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.

Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.

Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.

“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN