BOSTON — Brad Stevens has suffered through 53 losses this season as head coach of the Celtics, with at least a few more likely to come before he wraps up his rookie campaign. Each defeat has shaken him, but his mood after dropping Friday night’s game to the Philadelphia 76ers hit a new low.
Stevens took an unusually long time to arrive for his postgame press conference following the Celtics’ 111-102 loss. Team captain Rajon Rondo acknowledged later that the coach ripped into his players a bit more than usual.
His hair a bit unkempt, his shoulders drooping slightly, Stevens was asked how long he dwells on losses like this.
“That’s a good question,” Stevens said after a long pause. “Somewhere around forever. I don’t have a 24-hour rule. I probably should. I could tell you about every single one of my losses at Butler, and I could probably take you through every single one this year — a lot more than the wins.”
Part of what made Stevens so successful at Butler — what makes any coach successful anywhere, for that matter — was his utter distaste for losing. Yet through two national championship game defeats with the Bulldogs and another season’s full of hard-to-swallow losses with the Celtics (23-53), Stevens has taken the brunt of each defeat upon himself.
At the same time, Stevens was at a loss Friday to explain what more he could do. The Sixers (17-59) attempted 37 free throws, which he couldn’t simply explain away as poor coaching, as much as he tried.
“I thought they just got to the rim more,” Stevens said. “Of the two teams, the team that packed the paint and forced the other team to shoot perimeter jump shots better, they did a much better job. We let them get to the rim and and we slapped late and got fouls.”
That is about as close as you’ll hear Stevens come to an indictment of his players. He has been troubled by the lack of effort in the last two games, but he has gone to great lengths to bring the focus back onto himself. Still, there isn’t a lot in the way of scheme or adjustments a coach can make to prevent opposing ballhandlers from getting to the rim.
Stevens will toss in turn in bed the next few nights, however, trying to do just that.
Disappointed yet straightforward, Rondo was more biting than his coach in assessing the Celtics’ play. Saying multiple times that the Sixers played harder than the Celtics and that the Boston players deserved to be dressed down for their performance, Rondo was unsure if a players-only meeting is necessary to refocus the troops heading into the final half-dozen games.
“We are all professionals, and we have to do a way better job than what we are doing,” Rondo said. “As far as performing for the name across our jerseys, the front and the back, I try to be there as much as possible to root my guys on from the bench. We have to look deep. Everyone has to look in the mirror individually and try to pull out whatever they can give for these last six games.”