If we’ve learned one thing about Brad Stevens this season, it’s that he’s not one to celebrate losses.
Even when his Boston Celtics have erased massive deficits against far superior opponents, Stevens has not been satisfied with anything less than victory.
So, after the Celtics dropped a 110-98 decision to the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday to finish 3-3 on their treacherous trip through the Western Conference, the bossman was predictably peeved.
“I don’t think you even think about it,” Stevens told reporters. “I think you’re disappointed in tonight — tonight’s the last one. You’ve got to move forward. I don’t think there’s any moral victories in shooting for average. I don’t care what our situation is with regards to new members, with roster flux, all that stuff. You shoot to be as good as you can every single night. When you don’t play to that standard, you’re disappointed.”
While it’s true that nobody ever should be pleased about losing to a team with more than five times as many losses (37) as wins (seven), Stevens is selling short the success of his team’s trip.
Though only three of their six opponents are expected to make the playoffs this season, many believed the Celtics would go West and get stomped, especially considering Boston dropped seven of its last nine and 11 of its last 14 before hitting the road.
And that’s before you mention the fact that the Celtics’ last win in a Western Conference arena came way back in November 2013.
The bookends of the season-long swing — the T-Wolves game and a not-as-close-the-score-indicated 102-93 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers — were admittedly lackluster. But the meat of the trip, a four games-in-five days stretch that spanned four states and featured four time-zone hops, was about as good a stretch of basketball the Celtics have played all season.
Boston won three of those games, upsetting the Portland Trail Blazers to kick things off and taking care of business against the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz — two very beatable opponents. Yet the one loss might have been their most impressive showing of the bunch.
The C’s lost by just three to the juggernaut Golden State Warriors despite playing without Kelly Olynyk and their top one-on-one defender, Marcus Smart. Could Smart have helped prevent Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from going off for a combined 53 points? His presence certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Instead of the trip kick-starting a free fall back to the bottom of the standings, Stevens’ club now heads back home in surprisingly good shape. Even with the loss in Minnesota, Boston sits a mere two games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with two weeks to go until the All-Star break.
Yes, as crazy as it sounds, the playoffs are a legitimate possibility for these Celtics — the same team that was pronounced dead once it shipped Rajon Rondo and then Jeff Green out of town. That diagnosis might still be accurate; three long weeks remain until the trade deadline, during which Boston’s remaining veteran pieces could be sent packing.
But for now, one thing seems clear: These Celtics aren’t going down without a fight.
Thumbnail photo via Russell Isabella/USA TODAY Sports Images