Celtics notebook: Next step is a matter of maturity
DENVER — There is still work to be done in the regular season, with 16 games remaining after last night’s 119-99 loss to the Nuggets.
But the Celtics are very much preparing for what comes next.
They acknowledged that Al Horford was quite correct when he said in yesterday’s Herald that they have to tighten their game if they want to be successful in the postseason, something that’s been an issue with first-round eliminations and a 2-8 record the last two years. It was also something that reared it’s head here, with the C’s turning the ball over three times in their first five possessions to dig a hole from which they would never escape.
“We’re having a lot of turnovers that are unforced,” said Isaiah Thomas, “so we’ve got to really value each possession and know that in the playoffs every possession counts. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for that. We will though. We’ll get better at valuing our possession, especially down the stretch.”
Jae Crowder gave a nod to Horford.
“He’s right,” he said. “Basketball in the playoffs is a much slower-paced game. It becomes a halfcourt game, and when you’ve got a halfcourt game you have to take care of the ball. That’s why they say every possession in the playoffs counts, because it’s a slower game, less possessions.
“So we have to get back to that team that values the ball more than the other team. I think we’ve had a couple of slips after the All-Star Game, but I think we’ve been getting better lately. It’s a conscious effort for us to take care of the ball, for sure.”
Al’s hidden value on team
Although Horford’s influence goes beyond the traditional numbers, but it’s important to note he’s second on the club in assists at 4.9 and, for the deeper analytics types, he’s far and away the team leader with 181 screen assists for the year.
“I just think his presence makes unselfish basketball contagious, because he always makes the right play,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He probably looks to over-pass at times out of the post. But being able to play through him in the post has been huge for our team, and we need to continue to do that. I thought that was our best offense the other day against Golden State was when we were playing through the post with cutting and spacing and those type of things. We didn’t always make shots out of it, but we got a lot of good looks.”
As for whether Horford may need to look for his own shot more, Stevens said, “You don’t even worry about that. I mean, he’ll figure out the right times. And you don’t want to ever put a guy in his mind that making the next right pass isn’t the right play. So, again, I think his unselfishness at his age and stage and his accomplishment level and everything else demands that everybody else plays and moves it to the next guy, and I think that’s a great leadership quality of his.”
Elevated drain on energy
There is a large sign over the doorway to the inner arena at the Pepsi Center loading dock. It notes that the facility “welcomes you to the Mile High City, Elevation 5,280 feet.”
It’s a clear attempt to get into the heads of opposing players as they get off the team bus and walk to the dressing room. But the thin air here isn’t psychological. It’s real.
“No, you can feel it,” said Thomas. “Especially the first couple of minutes of that first quarter and that third quarter, you definitely can feel it. But there’s no excuses. You’ve just got to keep going.” .?.?.
According to the Celtics, first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele will be coming to Boston soon. The plan is to have him rehab the ankle he sprained in China and get some rest. If that goes well, he will likely join D-League Maine. The Red Claws’ regular season ends April 1, with playoffs to follow.
Cleaning the glass
The Celtics are still among the poorer rebounding teams for the season, but they’ve been doing better of late on the defensive glass.
“I just think we’ve gotten better at being a little bit more intact prior to the shot and making sure that we’re able to get back to our blockouts and keeping our shell intact,” said Stevens. “We’re switching a little bit more than we have in the past. Obviously we did that a little bit less against Golden State, and that’s a cause for concern against Golden State because you’re out there blitzing or running with (Steph) Curry and (Klay) Thompson, and that’s an issue rebounding. So you just try to do the best you can at getting back to bodies.
“But, you know, it’s been an emphasis. We’ve tried to make it an emphasis on our staff. I think the media’s done a great job making it an emphasis,” he added with a grin.