The Boston Celtics’ absymal performance Tuesday night was worthy of plenty of criticism. Some — namely point guard Isaiah Thomas — weren’t shy in giving it.
But even a double-digit blowout in a crucial Game 5 couldn’t raise Brad Stevens’ blood pressure.
The Celtics lost 110-83 to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena to fall into a 3-2 hole in their opening-round, best-of-seven series. They committed 20 turnovers, shot just 38 percent from the field and were outscored 74-42 over the second and third quarters. If they don’t win Game 6 on Thursday, Stevens will finish his third NBA season without a playoff series victory to his name.
So, what inspiring message did the 39-year-old head coach send to his players after Game 5?
“I just walked in and said, ‘Listen, we have to do a couple of things that were obvious by the naked eye to watch better, that we can control,'” Stevens said in a postgame interview aired on CSN New England. “Then we’ll look at film and figure out what else we can do better, and we’ll move forward.”
Stevens has made a habit of being even-keeled through the Celtics’ ups and downs, and Tuesday night was no different. Fittingly, the Indiana native admitted to a coaching strategy that stands in stark contrast to a legendary Notre Dame head man.
“I mean, I don’t think there’s any need to light into anybody or give a big Knute Rockne speech in Game 5 or 6 of the Eastern Conference playoffs,” Stevens said. “I just think you get ready for the next one, and you prepare really well, and you hope to come out the way we came out, which was focused and ready. We just didn’t sustain it.”
All is not lost for the C’s, who can force a Game 7 on Thursday in front of what should be an electric TD Garden crowd. But just as Stevens remained level after Tuesday’s loss, don’t expect him to celebrate wildly if Boston can keep its season alive Thursday.
“We just have to play good basketball,” Stevens said. “I’m not worried about anything else but playing good basketball. We have another game to play, and that’s a good thing.”
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Hawks:
— Thomas suffered a mild left ankle sprain early in the fourth quarter with his team already down by 29 points, which begs the question: Why was the Celtics star still in the game?
“I think that’s a very valid question,” Stevens said. “With this team, I’ve seen just enough crazy stuff to think that we might be able to get back in (to the game), and give him a chance from 12 (minutes) to nine or eight (minutes) to see if it could happen.
“He actually had a sub at the (scorer’s) table when it happened. So, I know that’s quite a task and quite a mountain to overcome, but we’ve all seen this team do some pretty crazy things when we’re down.”
Thomas insisted he’ll be ready for Game 6, but the fact he was moments away from being substituted for when he suffered his injury is pretty tough luck for Boston.
— Thomas had a night he’d like to quickly forget. He scored a season-low seven points on 3-of-12 shooting and had a plus-minus rating of minus-33, which earned him a dubious distinction.
— The difference for the Hawks on Tuesday was their 3-point shooting. Atlanta made 14 3-pointers, including four from Kent Bazemore and three from Kyle Korver, and shot 39 percent from distance after failing to top 30 percent in Games 3 and 4.
— The loss was Boston’s seventh consecutive defeat at Philips Arena, where the C’s haven’t beaten the Hawks since Nov. 23, 2013. But here’s some good news for Celtics fans entering Game 6:
— Stevens finished a distant sixth in the NBA’s Coach of the Year voting, with Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr winning the honors despite missing more than half the regular season. But the Celtics coach was quick to praise Kerr before the game.
“Steve Kerr more than deserves that award,” Stevens said, via Celtics.com. “Any time you have a team that accomplished what they accomplished they should sweep the awards, and that’s just the way it goes. … Just to be one of the 30 coaches in this league is an honor.”
Thumbnail photo via Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports Images
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