Celtics-Bulls Game 3 preview: C's need to be 'more focused'

Celtics-Bulls Game 3 preview: C's need to be 'more focused'

CHICAGO –  There’s a pretty lengthy list of “we can do better at …” items for the Boston Celtics to think about heading into Friday night’s Game 3 matchup between the Celtics and the Chicago Bulls.
 
Near the top of that list if not at the top, will be Boston trying to play with an edge that’s closer to what we saw from them during the season.
 
When I asked Jae Crowder about areas the Celtics needed to improve upon, he didn’t hesitate in responding, “play with energy throughout the whole game; sustain it."
 
Crowder added, “I feel like those guys have been playing very hard. And at times we played hard, but they played harder than us.”
 
While there are players on the roster who can provide a boost of energy for Boston, it has to be a collective thing if it’s going to truly work.
 
“All five guys on the court being engaged,” said Crowder when asked about playing with an edge. “Knowing the task at hand and knowing each other and not getting down. Move on to the next play. If something bad happens, try to move on and win the next play.”
 
It’s easier said than done, especially at a time when all of the player’s focus isn’t fully where it should be following the death of Isaiah Thomas’ 22-year-old sister, Chyna J. Thomas, who died after a one-car crash which as one can imagine, has been difficult for Thomas to move forward from.
 
“It’s a lot going on these couple days right before the playoffs with the Isaiah situation,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “That’s a lot of burden on him. We feel it too; when he goes through something we all go through it. You can see it.”
 
Thomas was not with the team during their Thursday afternoon practice at the United Center in Chicago. Instead, he was on his way to Chicago on Thursday night to rejoin the team in plenty of time for tonight’s Game 3 matchup.
 
Thomas left the Celtics following their Game 2 loss on Wednesday and spent the day with his family in Takoma, Wash.
 
With the two-time All-Star spending time the past day or so with his family in Tacoma, Wash., the Celtics will get him back soon hopefully with a clear mind and a healthy body.
 
But they all know that they’ll need more than that to win.
 
“We need to be more focused than we were the first two games,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “We need to do all the little things. it’s tough winning on the road. In the playoffs it’s even harder.”
 
But the Celtics don’t have time to worry about that.
 
Instead, their focus has to be on one thing and one thing only – winning tonight’s game.
 
Because without it, they would find themselves in a 3-0 series deficit, something that no team has ever been able to fully overcome to advance in a playoff series.
 
“At the end of the day, it’s about how we play at 6 o’clock [Friday],” Stevens said. “Whenever you get beat, you’re antsy to get out there on the court and play. But we’ve been outplayed the first two games, there’s no question about it. And so you should have a little fire to get out there.”
 

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

Jaylen Brown may be the future of Celtics, but he's focused on now

BOSTON – This is not how this is supposed to work.

When the regular season ends for high draft picks, there’s usually a nice, warm island awaiting their arrival in late-April when the regular season ends.

But this was no typical rookie season for Boston’s Jaylen Brown.

And as we have seen, Brown isn’t your typical rookie.

Drafted with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, the 6-foot-7 Brown found himself in the rotation on a Celtics team that advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before having their season end at the hands of the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

The path towards individual and team success is littered with struggles and potholes of strife along with the pain of disappointment cluttering up things as well.

From within that rubble lies promise; the kind that has Celtics Nation justifiably excited about the future of Brown with the Celtics.

But Brown isn’t about the future, folks.

“I’m excited about the now,” he said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead. Everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have; I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s all I’m focused on.”

That kind of focus is among the many reasons that despite being a rookie, his teammates quickly sensed that the now-20-year-old had his sights set on not just talking about cracking the rotation but actually putting in the work that would leave head coach Brad Stevens no choice but to play him.

“He’s going to be really good,” said Boston’s Gerald Green. “If he keeps his same mentality; he’s humble. And continue to work on his game and continue to learn.

Green added, “he couldn’t be in a better place, than being here. With his talent and his work ethic, he’s going to be great.”

But like most rookies, Brown’s play was anything but a steady on-the-rise movement.

His first NBA start came on the road at Cleveland on Nov. 3.

Boston lost the game, but Brown won over many with his career-high 19 points while spending a good deal of the night guarding LeBron James.

In his next four games, Brown scored a total of just 17 points.

And in Boston’s first-round series with Chicago, Brown's role shrunk in the last four games – all Celtics wins. In those games, he played a total of just under 10 minutes.

So what did he do?

He got back in the gym, continued to work on his game and do a better job at making the most of the minutes he received.

More than anything else, Brown attributes his improved play as the season progressed to simply figuring out the NBA landscape as far as what he could do and what he needed to work on, to get better.

Which is why there are many who believe that Brown will be a much better player than the one we saw this season.

That said, he still had decent numbers – 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds while shooting 45.4 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3-point range.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, coming into the NBA,” Brown said. “Throughout the year, I don’t think people expected me to contribute as much as I did. Now just getting to the Eastern  Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger you know;  I have a bad taste in my mouth. Gotta put in work during the offseason and come back stronger.”

Like Brown, Al Horford came into the NBA as a high draft pick who wound up in the playoffs that rookie season.

Horford can totally relate to Brown’s comments about not knowing what he was getting into.

“The first year you’re really feeling everything out,” Horford said. “Jaylen has an understanding now of what the league is about. It’s a lot for a rookie to handle. Now he has a better idea (so) he can just focus on getting better, working on his game and I expect him to be much better his second year.”

Brown will have the knowledge gained from being part of a team that came within three wins of getting to the NBA Finals.

To come that close is tough to accept, but Brown sees it all as part of a bigger plan for him and his role with the Celtics moving forward.

“I can use it as fuel. I’ve been learning all year,” Brown said. “I’ve had ups, I’ve had downs, I’ve had opportunities, I’ve had mistakes. So I’ve been learning and growing and improving all year and I’m going to continue to grow and improve and prove people wrong, prove doubters wrong.”

And that process Brown speaks of has certainly been aided by being in a successful situation like Boston compared to some other lottery picks who saw lots of playing time but showed minimal growth playing lots of minutes.

“Being on a winning team and developing good habits, learning how to win, play the game the right way … learning that at a young age is really going to help me,” Brown said. “A lot of young guys, they don’t learn that early. They have to figure it out three, four, five years in. I’m happy I learned it now.”

And while the learning will continue on for Brown during this offseason, it won’t be nearly as tough now than it was when he came into the league.

“I know exactly what I’m preparing for,” Brown said. “I expect a really different result.”

Brown added, “I want to be ready for whatever is thrown at me; no excuses whatsoever.”

Now that’s how this is supposed to work!