As the Boston Celtics’ difficult season draws to a close, Stevens has steadfastly maintained that every remaining game matters. Several times in the last week, including before Friday’s 106-103 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, he even uttered the word “momentum” to explain what these final few games might be meaningful in the long run.
It’s a bit of a puzzling term, for sure. How can a game or two won in mid-April carry over through the many spring, summer and fall months, lasting into training camp and the start of the next season in October?
The momentum Stevens talks about isn’t the type that players and fans feel when the tide of a game is turning, however. It’s more the momentum of improving, of heading into the offseason with a sense of forward progress and starting out next season farther along than where they finished this one.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are contracted to be back on this team,” Stevens said. “We’ve got other guys that aren’t that we are very fond of that we may have back on this team. Every day that we get together, everything that we do, those guys can get better through that. We’ve had a lot of close games not go our way, and (Friday) one goes our way. Can you turn some of those around with extra opportunities like this down the road?
“I’m of the belief that everything matters. I’m also of the belief that those guys have invested a lot. They came out and competed pretty well throughout the course of the year. They deserve to celebrate in the locker room and be excited in the locker room, especially after the string of losses we’ve had.”
The next logical question is what areas the Celtics have, in fact, shown improvement. Regardless of what their 24-55 record suggests, there are a few.
With or without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics are playing their best offensive basketball of the season, having topped 100 points in five of their last eight games. They have shot 52 percent from the field in five April games and have improved at keeping opponents off the offensive glass, a massive weakness in the first 2 1/2 months of the season.
They are also sharing the ball more, averaging more than 22 assists per game since the All-Star break. That is the opposite of what one would expect to happen on a losing team, with players supposedly looking out for their own interests over their teammates’.
Not everything is rosy, of course. The Celtics haven’t lost 38 of their last 50 games by accident. Their defense has self-destructed far more than their offense has improved, and the extra ball movement generating those assists has also led to an uptick in turnovers.
Yet the aspects that require improvement are just as instructive as those that already have shown improvement, in the Celtics’ eyes. Striving for a couple more wins isn’t only about ruining their draft lottery chances. How they finish the season really does matter to them.
“A lot,” Avery Bradley said. “Even though there’s only a few games left, we can still make a statement and show teams that we are still fighting, no matter what, even if we’re not going to the playoffs. We still have pride to go out there and play for ourselves and our fans.”
In essence, Stevens doesn’t want to the Celtics to get into the bad habit of not playing to the end. Because eventually, ideally, they’ll be playing for an ending that has a lot more riding on it than just personal pride.