Brad Stevens on Celtics' Loss to Kings: Has to Be 17 Guys Dying to Play Together

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 20, 2021

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens instructs his players in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings, Friday, March 19, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The Boston Celtics have dipped below the .500 mark for the first time since starting the season 1-2 after Friday's 107-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings, and Brad Stevens isn't happy about it. 

The head coach told reporters after the team's third straight loss that he needs "17 guys dying to play well together":

Jay King @ByJayKing

Brad Stevens is giving a pretty passionate speech basically about how the Celtics need to be more together and more resilient: “It’s gotta be 17 guys dying to play well together. And I think the fun follows that.”

Jay King @ByJayKing

Brad Stevens: “Fun often follows winning. But what comes first: Winning or doing hard stuff?” He wants the Celtics to do hard stuff first and then the rest will come.

Jaylen Brown was also critical of his own leadership and the team's composure late in games following the loss: 

Brian Robb @BrianTRobb

Jaylen Brown says he needs to improve as a leader: "I lose sleep because of that."

Keith Smith @KeithSmithNBA

Jaylen Brown says the Celtics have fallen apart a lot in the fourth quarter: "That's supposed to be winning time and it's been the time we haven't been absolutely together."

It wasn't all doom and gloom in Boston on Friday. Stevens, after speculation linked him to the Indiana men's basketball head coaching vacancy given that he grew up in the state, confirmed in no uncertain terms that he was remaining with the Celtics. 

Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps

Here’s Brad Stevens’ complete answer on why he has no interest in leaving the Celtics, including, “I’m not a kid anymore. I’m a 44-year-old Masshole. I swerve around others when I’m driving, I eat Dunkin Donuts and I root for the Patriots.” https://t.co/t0sKCiJOfW

But something is amiss with the Celtics, and it's unclear what, exactly. The team is now eighth in the East, eight games back of the conference-leading Philadelphia 76ers. It's not for a lack of talent—Jayson Tatum and Brown are two of the most talented young players in the NBA, while Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart are very good, playoff-tested veterans. 

Granted, Tatum has been open about his struggles with the after-effects of a COVID-19 diagnosis earlier in the season. 

"I think it messes with your breathing a little bit," he told reporters in February. "I have experienced some games where, I don't want to say [I was] struggling to breathe, but, you know, you get fatigued a lot quicker than normal. Just running up and down the court a few times, it's easier to get out of breath or tired a lot faster."

And Kemba Walker was slow to get back into a rhythm after having an offseason stem-cell injection in his left knee. 

But Boston's issues seem to run deeper than just some physical setbacks. 

Steve Bulpett @SteveBHoop

It's too easy -- and false -- to fall on the cliche and say the Celtics are tuning out their coach. If you focus on what's truly going on here, the players are tuning out each other. There is not nearly enough all-five cohesion, commitment and accountability right now.

Marcus Smart told reporters before Friday's loss that "a lot of things have happened in our lives, personally, individually, where it's hard to come in here and give that energy to somebody else when in your own individual personal life, energy has been drained or you don't really have it."

But he added that team has to "be able to help one another."

"We've got to find a way," he said. "Right now, we're kind of blind, but we're searching for that light. We've got to keep searching. We can't give up. Because I know there's a lot of people out there that's already counting us out. I know there's a lot of people out there that's ready to give up on us, which is fine, it’s cool. We're all we got, so we're the ones that have to deal with the consequences."