Losses mount during dark days of Stevens' era

Losses mount during dark days of Stevens' era
November 17, 2013, 12:45 am
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You would be hard-pressed to find another coach in the NBA with the kind of perpetual optimism that Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has.

His team is 4-7 after dropping their third straight on Saturday at Minnesota, with each loss looking worst than its predecessor.

Despite the losing streak, Stevens maintains an almost stoic perspective during what's likely to be his darkest days as the Boston Celtics' head coach.

But on Saturday there was something different.

The confidence he has in this team is still there.

But for the first time the weight of this team's losing ways seemed to affect him in a very visible, real way.

He'll continue to show up to work early and stay late, searching for ways to win games.

But the reality of what he has at hand is starting to sink in.

Coming from the college ranks, gaining a proper perspective on what he's working with and what he has to compete against, takes time.

Now that he's 11 games into this NBA coaching thing, Stevens knows his team has to play well every night just to be competitive.

That's why actually losing to Minnesota in itself isn't that big a deal.

The Timberwolves should have won Saturday's game because they're a more talented team.

Period.

But are they 18 points better than the Celtics?

No.

And while it would be easy to point to Jeff Green's 0-for-6 shooting night as the reason for the Celtics' loss, that would be extremely short-sighted and just flat-out wrong.

Fans worried about the Celtics winning too many games this season and missing out on one of the top picks in the 2014 NBA draft should not worry.

Boston will win some games, but at the end of the day this is not a squad that's good enough to get into the playoffs as they are constructed.

The return of Rajon Rondo (still out with torn right ACL injury) would obviously improve their chances at success, but even having him back probably won't be enough.

The team you see now is not built to win at a high level.

They are built to compete night-in and night-out, providing the kind of optimism that many - like Stevens - believe will shape who they are this season and in seasons to come.

But that theory was rocked on Saturday.

Minnesota didn't win because they were the better team or because they had better players.

They won because they worked harder for loose balls, they did a better job of closing out on shooters around the basket and on the perimeter; they fought for rebounds more aggressively, stuck closer to their game plan.

And the result?

An 18-point loss for Boston that truthfully could have been worse.

If you're Stevens, that has to hurt more than anything about this latest loss.

Not that the Celtics lost, but that they lost and didn't really compete other than a few minutes here and there.

Indeed, Boston had their moments on Saturday when they made the game mildly interesting.

But there was never a point where the Celtics' runs felt like anything more than just a commercial break from the Kevin Love-Nikola Pekovic show.

"We just looked like (expletive)," Celtics Jeff Green told reporters. "That's all it was. We played like (expletive). Plain and simple."

And in the course of a long, 82-game season, there are going to be nights when that happens.

The players know this and so does Stevens.

But Saturday's loss was different not only in its decisive ending, but its potential beginning.

Boston doesn't play again until Tuesday at Houston which is when they face a Rockets team that will be an even tougher foe than the Timberwolves.

But with that comes another opportunity to not just quiet their naysayers, but also quiet those doubts that are surely beginning to creep into their thoughts during this rough patch of the season.

This team needs another taste of success.

Yes, a win would be great.

But at this point, giving themselves a chance to win - better known to us as competing - is even more important.