Celtics face questions about mental toughness

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Celtics face questions about mental toughness

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON When you look at this Boston Celtics team, there's plenty of talented, experienced, playoff-proven players.

That kind of basketball resume breeds a certain mental toughness that, when times are hard, allows these players to flourish instead of flounder in big games.

But that's part of the problem.

This group recognizes the need to play with a sense of urgency when facing the NBA's elite.

Everyone else?

Not so much.

It certainly played out that way on Monday as the Celtics lost at home, 108-102 to a sub-.500 Houston Rockets team.

Now having lost two straight, the C's are finding themselves having to deal with the kind of questions that championship-caliber teams don't usually have to address.

Specifically, their mental toughness.

No, it's not being questioned so much by the media.

Instead, it's their head coach, Doc Rivers.

"You look at some of our losses, record-wise, you know it's mental," he said. "That's a mental mindset and it starts with me. I've got to somehow figure out a way of getting them to see the urgency of the whole season and not the single game."

The C's can talk about taking it 'one game at a time' all they want to.

But Rivers acknowledged that the big picture involves getting deep into the playoffs, and to do that requires winning the games you're supposed to.

And no matter how you look at it, with or without Kevin Garnett (out with right calf strain), the C's should have beaten the Rockets.

With most of his teammates already gone for the night, Paul Pierce once again stood front and center, answering every question - including those questioning his team's mental toughness in allowing a winnable game, at home, get away from them so easily.

"Especially at home," said Pierce, clearly dejected following the C's second straight loss. "These games mean a lot down the road . . . we got to put our work boots on and come with our 'A' game. There are a lot of games that we're letting slip away that we're supposed to win."

Winning is always a premium.

But it's even more vital for success this season if you're looking to come out of the Eastern Conference.

Based on how a number of teams have improved, a repeat of the Celtics' run towards the NBA Finals last season as a fourth-seed is unlikely to happen.

One of the reasons Boston didn't finish with a better record last season, was because it didn't always bring its best stuff to the floor - similar to what we saw on Monday night.

"This year is not like last year, where you could coast," Rivers said. "You don't have home court this year, you could go home."

That's why Rivers' concern level is relatively high after what was only the team's ninth loss of the season.

As much as the Celtics would have benefited from better play, it can't be a one- or two-game improvement.

When you watch this team play, it seems too many are thinking about what they need to do for a particular game, and aren't necessarily seeing the big picture.

"You see them thinking about the individual game and not the ramifications of the entire season," Rivers said. "And playing Game Seven (of the NBA Finals last year) on the road. And hell, not just in the Finals if you make it there, but in the playoffs."

Yes, we're not even halfway through the season yet and Rivers is talking about the playoffs.

Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't be that big a deal.

This is a veteran group. They can handle such rhetoric and not allow it to negatively affect their play - we think.

"We're not perfect," said guard Nate Robinson. "We make mistakes, but you fight through those mistakes. It's the wall we have to go through, or climb over."
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Brad Stevens podcast: "Only goal around here is a championship"

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Brad Stevens podcast: "Only goal around here is a championship"

Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine talk with Boston Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens at Celtics Media Day about raised expectations for the upcoming season, how Al Horford will fit, can Isaiah Thomas build off an All-Star season, and how high are his goals. 

Plus, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss whether or not some critiscism could come Stevens' way if the Celtics doesn't perform well in the playoffs.

MORE PODCAST Isaiah Thomas: ‘Just getting to the playoffs in Boston isn’t good enough’

SUBSCRIBE Audioboom | iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher

C's players mull how to utilize platform as athletes for social commentary

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C's players mull how to utilize platform as athletes for social commentary

WALTHAM -- The national anthem protests by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick have had an undeniable ripple effect on professional sports teams across the country. And that includes the Boston Celtics.
 
“We as an organization know what’s going on,” said Marcus Smart. “We read and see and hear about it every day. It’s a sensitive subject for everybody.”
 
While it’s unlikely that Celtics players will do something similar to Kaepernick taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem, there’s no question some are figuring out the best way to utilize their platform as athletes to express their views on current social issues.
 
“Us athletes have to take advantage of the stage we’re on,” said Jae Crowder. “Try to make a positive out it. You can’t fix negative problems with negative energy. I don’t want to do anything negative; I want to do something positive, shed light on the situation.”
 
Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and a number of professional athletes have tried to have more attention paid to recent killings of African-Americans by police officers where, based on the video footage, it appears excessive or unnecessary force was used.
 
It is a topic that has brought a wide range of responses from many in the sports world, including the dean of NBA coaches, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich.
 
During the Spurs’ media day this week, he was asked about the Kaepernick’s protests.
 
“I absolutely understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and I respect their courage for what they’ve done,” Popovich told reporters. “The question is whether it will do any good or not because it seems that change really seems to happen through political pressure, no matter how you look at it.”
 
As examples of the political pressure he was referring to, Popovich mentioned Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ability to galvanize group, as well as the NBA and other organizations pulling their events out of the state of North Carolina because of its legislation as it relates to the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
 
“The important thing that Kaepernick and others have done is keep it in the conversation,” Popovich said.
 
And while there may be differing opinions as to whether Kaepernick or any other athlete should be protesting, the one common thread that seems to bind the Celtics players and the front office is them having the right to speak out not only as professional athletes, but Americans.
 
“The biggest thing is we all really value the freedoms that we have and that we’ve been allotted,” said coach Brad Stevens, who added that he has had individual discussions with players on this subject. “We certainly support an individual’s freedoms. It’s been great to engage in those discussions. It’s been really fun for me how excited our guys are about using their platform.”
 
And that more than anything else is why Crowder feels the Celtics have to have a united front as far as the message they present to the masses.
 
“If we want change we have to do it together,” Crowder said. “I feel like those guys (other athletes) used their platforms well. I think more athletes should do the same. You can’t do it with any hatred; you can’t do it with any negative. You have to do it with positive energy.”