Unlike the last time they were home, when a March 3 loss to Houston left them collectively moribund, the Celtics seemed to have overcome their tendency towards glum introspection after giving up the most points of their season (140) to the Clippers Tuesday night.
Another long plane ride, yes. But instead of torturing themselves over what went wrong, the Celtics seemed more inclined to shake off the embarrassment that comes with such a poor defensive effort.
“We have to communicate better. That would solve everything,” said Marcus Smart. “We stopped rotating and helping each other out because we thought someone else had it. We just have to clean those things up, communicate and everything will fall into place for us.”
Smart’s pragmatic tone was a far cry, to be sure, from the team that boarded that flight following the loss to Houston.
“By far, by far,” he said of the change in team mindset. “We’re at the (point) where yeah, we lost, but we can’t think about that. We have to move on from this, turn around and play a game (tonight), and come out and play. We can’t be thinking about this one. Have to stay in the present.”
Though Kyrie Irving has struggled through some glum periods this season, the Celtics star seems to have pushed that tendency to the side, at least for now.
The loss left the Celtics one-and-a-half games behind Philadelphia and Indiana — the two teams tied for the third Eastern Conference playoff seed. The Celtics have 14 games left before the playoffs, including one against each of those teams. They play in Philadelphia a week from Wednesday (March 20), and already hold the tiebreaker over the Sixers thanks to a 3-0 regular season series lead.
With so little time left, a blowout loss on the end of a 3-1 western road trip is best left where it happened.
“It’s the NBA, man, so you take your lessons and we’ll watch film and see where we can get better,” Irving said of the Clippers game. “But most of it at this point of the season is just knowledge of the game that we go over day after day, and we just weren’t doing that.
“I wasn’t in the right spots every single time, pulling over on the weak side for tags, and guys coming off curls, and helping each other, and just being there,” he said. “I think there was probably a record and-ones that we’ve given up in a game this season. So when you have that and Lou (Williams) comes off the bench to give you 30-plus, you’re not giving yourself a great chance to win. And that’s what happened.”
But the Celtics are wise to look at the whole of the trip, which kicked off with their fourth win in the last four years against Golden State
“I think for the most part we played some good basketball,” said Jaylen Brown. “We came out tonight and got our ass kicked, but for the most part we played pretty good basketball over a four-game span. We just gotta get better going forward and try to keep it up.
“Winning. Winning stands out. We won three out of four,” he said. “There’s certain areas we can clean up. We just have to keep winning, keep trying to push to be the best before the playoffs and see what happens. ... We’ve been away from home for a long time, so we came, we got three out of four, we wanted to get all four, but it’ll be good to go home and get some sleep in our own beds.”
Perhaps the one person who won’t sleep much when he gets home is Brad Stevens. The Clippers loss exposed weaknesses on defense that continue to nag the Celtics, like 3-point coverage and vulnerability on the defensive glass most recently manipulated by the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell.
“There’s some very clear areas we need to improve upon,” said the Celtics coach. “We probably got exposed a little bit in the Sacramento game. But, clearly (against the Clippers). So we’re going to have to get back and work hard on Wednesday to get ready for (tonight).
“Who knows? It’s not like we’d solved a big puzzle after three games,” said Stevens. “We’re just trying to get better, and so, we didn’t play well. They outplayed us. Kudos to them, and now we’ll take what we need to and move on and learn from it.”