WALTHAM — When you lose your two best players and still land in the Eastern Conference, there would seem to be some element of mental toughness that made it happen.
That certainly seems to be the case when it comes to the Celtics.
But on the afternoon prior to his team taking on the Cavaliers in the best-of-seven series, Celts coach Brad Stevens clarified how he viewed the quality in question (and it wasn’t the explanation many might have been expecting).
“First of all, I think mental toughness, being able to move on to the next play, being able to do the next right thing that can grow within somebody, for sure,” Stevens said. “If I look at myself as a 20-year-old player there’s no way I would have had the mental fortitude after 20 years of coaching. I think players get better at that all the time. I think it helps when you have great role models in that regard. But mental toughness in general isn’t being the most physical or just being able to make the big shot. It’s being able to do your job on the next play every single time. That’s hard to do. That consistency isn’t for everyone. And that’s why it’s the mark of really good players.”
Perhaps the player that best exemplifies what Stevens is talking about is guard Marcus Smart.
At just 24 years old, Smart has already played in 36 postseason games. And while you’re talking about a guy who has averaged just 9.8 points per game in the playoffs, what he did in the final seconds of the series-clincher against the Sixers offers a small example of why Stevens uses the guard as his living definition of mental toughness.
After following up a missed lay-in by Jayson Tatum in the final minute, Smart was put on the line to seal the deal. But after missing the first free throw with just more than two seconds remaining, the guard’s attempt at clanging the second — letting time run off — actually went in, allowing Philadelphia to organize a lob down the floor.
But Smart regrouped, exhibited the mental toughness that Stevens described, and picked off the Sixers’ final pass as the buzzer sounded.
It was everything that made these Celtics, and Smart, all wrapped up in a few ticks of the clock.
“He’s a guy who has played well in the playoffs his whole career,” said Stevens of Smart. “We lean on him a lot. Even though he’s a young guy by age, he’s not young in terms of experience. He’s been to four straight playoffs. He’s seen us have to play against all kinds of different styles. We’ve played these guys a couple of times. He’s a guy we certainly lean on to not only be who he is on the basketball court, and not only be enthusiastic, but to step up to these challenges. He’s been great in the playoffs.”
And, of course, Smart is just one of the pieces of what has become a very successful puzzle. For that, Stevens said, a lot of credit has to go to chief decision-maker Danny Ainge.
“Danny has prioritized drafting, signing in free agency, trading for guys who are team guys who are tough and will work, who are committed to getting better every day,” Stevens said. “Obviously that helps any team, but it helps when you lose guys because they really have the great mentality of plug in the next guy and the expectation is that that person will play well.”
– The Celtics were afforded a welcome sight during their Saturday practice — Gordon Hayward actually participating in the preparation.
Before anyone gets too excited, understand Hayward, who continues to come back from ankle surgery, was just a body (albeit a notable one) to participate in the walk-through.
“He’s been in Indy for however long now and has progressed nicely,” Stevens said. “He flew back this weekend so he’ll be at tomorrow’s game. He was out here as we walked through some things earlier. He was part of the walk-through, which was fun just to have him back out here. He’s getting better, too. Again, we’re going to have to figure out how to be the best version of ourself without those guys.”
– Also on the injury front, Stevens reiterated that nobody should be holding their breath waiting for an appearance by guard Shane Larkin, who is out with a shoulder injury.
“He’s not going to play in either of these games, and I doubt we see him in this series,” the Celtics head coach said.
– So many are looking for similarities between what the Celtics have dealt with in their first two series and what Cleveland presents. One obvious trait is the ability to present an outside threat, which in the case of the Cavs comes from Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith.
“When you start talking about guys coming off screens, obviously a couple of years ago there was Ray Allen,” Stevens said. “A couple of other guys get into that mix. Now guys who are the best shooters running off screens, you probably start with Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and J.J. Redick. I think there are some similarities there. Cleveland has two of them in their starting lineup, so it’s quite a challenge.”
Korver has been shooting 46 percent from beyond the 3-point stripe this postseason, while Smith is at 41 percent (having clocked in at 50 percent during last season’s playoff run).
Full article @ Celtics notes: Brad Stevens offers awesome definition of mental toughness
Source: GreenStreet Blog