Brad Stevens loved the energy and effort his roster gave him in the midst of the team’s second-half turnaround this season. A 24-12 finish in Boston’s final 36 regular season games propelled the Celtics to the No. 7 seed, in large part thanks to a scrappy group that appeared to be outworking opponents down the stretch of the regular season.
In the playoffs though, energy and effort alone are not going to win you many ballgames. The talent and intensity level increases, especially against an opponent like the Cleveland Cavaliers. As the pressure ramps up, mistakes can become more prevalent, and the Celtics’ roster simply does not have the talent level to recover from those miscues.
Boston’s performance in Game 3 at the TD Garden Thursday night was probably the best example of that painful reality for this young group. The Celtics put up an admirable fight, much like the first two games of this series. After Stevens watched his team drop a 103-95 contest to Cleveland and fall into a 3-0 series hole, he pointed out an issue that he had not mentioned after the first two games of the series.
“The bottom line was we didn’t play with any poise,” Stevens explained after Game 3. “I don’t know if it was the terrific environment in there, if we were just – I don’t know if it was down 0-2, I don’t know what they deal was, but I thought they really played with poise and in control; we did not. And I thought that was the biggest difference in the game. Our effort was great, we played really hard, but we’ve got to play better. And we’ve said it over and over. It’s an eight-point game at the end of the day, and there’s so many possessions that we threw away.”
Evan Turner (19 points) and Jae Crowder (16 points) starred for the Celtics in the losing effort, and neither seemed to care for Stevens’ comments when questioned following the defeat.
“He said our poise wasn’t good?” Turner quipped. “I think that’s a little strong because we were on the bench encouraging each other. I think we bounced back, I don’t know in regards to poise but I think we were resilient. We had a lot of comebacks and we had a lot of runs and we had a lot of tough runs that led to success for them but you know, to be down three with a minute or two minutes left, it’s somewhat great, but obviously, I don’t think we did a great job to fully help us get over the hump.”
Crowder pointed out how the team responded to Cleveland’s consistent runs throughout the contest.
“I mean, down three with a minute to go, you just got to fight through it,” Crowder said. “If we felt like we didn’t play with poise, you still have to fight through it. I felt like we responded well with the turnovers that we had late, we gave ourselves a chance we just got to get that rebound and see what happens after that.”
After those responses, Stevens made sure to clarify his poise comments this afternoon in a radio interview with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak and Bertrand to ensure they weren’t being taken the wrong way.
“That’s not a malicious thing,” Stevens said of his poise remarks. “That’s not something you ultimately choose to do that, but I think, for whatever reason, went outside of ourselves on a few different occasions and those things end up getting you.
“You are trying so hard to make a play, you are trying to get the game within one-possession, you are trying to get a little bit closer, extend the lead, whatever the case may be, instead of making the right basketball play. We always talk about hitting singles. It’s a game of 48 minutes when you have to hit them consistently. Very rarely does that home run mindset get you to where you want to go since it’s a long game. You have to have a lot of focus to continue playing the right way through everything that is going on.”
After Turner and Crowder review the film, it’s safe to bet both players will agree with their coach’s assessment. Both players combined to have more than half (eight) of Boston’s 15 turnovers in Game 3. Several of those miscues were of the “home run” or sloppy variety, where the simple play would have saved the possession for Boston.
For instance, with the Celtics trailing by just one point in the third quarter, Crowder made an out-of-control drive to the hoop. Kevin Love patiently waited for him and drew an easy charge.
Later in the frame, Crowder got ambitious with an outlet pass, and was picked off easily by Kyrie Irving.
Throughout the third quarter, Turner was sloppy with his ballhandling, leading to easy steals for LeBron James.
Crowder and Turner weren’t the only culprits on the night. Defensively, the Celtics did not stay on the same page, leading to multiple easy drives to the rim by LeBron and company like this one in the first quarter.
The lack of poise the Celtics showed in these situations added up over the course of the night, and in the end it proved to be too much to overcome.
“We have to play better on both ends,” Stevens declared. “I told the guys in there, and I believe this line, and I don’t know who said it so I apologize to the person that originally said it, but when considering the consequences of not doing the little things, you realize there are no little things. That applies to us right now.”
The series may be virtually out of reach now for the Celtics, but playing with poise in the postseason is a valuable tool for this team to learn for the years to come. The Celtics will have at least one more chance to show they have learned their lesson in that department in Game 4 on Sunday.