BOSTON — Brandon Bass whirled around, balled his fists and roared. It was a sequence the veteran forward has performed a number of times, whenever he has hit a big shot as a member of the Boston Celtics.
This time, however, there was nothing to celebrate.
Bass’ reaction was not in triumph, but in anger, after he missed an open 18-foot jump shot with 1:37 left in a tie game that would eventually become a 107-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls. Later, in the locker room, Bass couldn’t get over the miss.
“I shoot a million of those, man,” Bass said. “I shoot a million of those. Those shots, in those moments of the game, I really want to come through for the team.”
For Bass, like just about everyone on the Celtics this season, the frustration of losing has just about gotten to be too much. While everyone has tried to conceal it, all of the defeats — now 50 and counting — are getting more difficult to brush off. Coach Brad Stevens was visibly more dejected after this one than he has been after most losses in this trying season.
“I’ve been pretty frustrated, but it is what it is,” Stevens said. “One thing I’ve got to do is set the tone for my job as hard as I can, so that’s what I’m going to do. It’s not easy to be 23-and-whatever-we-are. But the real mettle comes out at those times, too.”
While this season has been frustrating for Stevens, it’s been the same and more for Rajon Rondo. The point guard recorded another strong performance Sunday, compiling 17 points, 11 assists and two steals. Yet he also committed a game-high six turnovers and was resigned to missing Monday’s game as he continues to sit out the second end of back-to-backs. His surgically repaired right knee is still encased in a bulky brace during games and will not be back to full strength until next season, at the earliest.
Befitting his new role as team captain, though, Rondo is trying to imitate his coach’s approach.
“I just try to lead by example,” Rondo said. “I don’t walk around with my head down. I try to go as hard as I can each time on the floor and try to do the same thing in practice. Gotta keep chugging away, keep fighting.”
Coaching an NBA team isn’t quite as stressful as being president of the United States, but Stevens, 37, appears to have aged like a first-term commander in chief since he took the job last summer. His brown hair has even added a few wisps of gray.
Losing is hard, but Stevens does not think it has weighed too heavily on him. At least, no more than he would expect.
“I don’t know; maybe someone from the outside looking in would say that,” Stevens said. “Here’s what I think: I’m getting a lot better at this. Our team’s going to get a lot better as a result of this. And that’s hard to process when you’re in the midst of it. I had a great coach tell me, the toughest times are the ones that help form you and make you better, and I believe that. But it’s hard to think about that right now.”