BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics are one loss away from being eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals and getting booted out of the NBA bubble. They know what’s at stake, so there really is no need for Brad Stevens to go nuclear on his team following a frustrating Game 4 loss on Wednesday night.
That really isn’t Stevens’ style, anyways. Instead, the coach has a fairly simple message for his team heading into Friday night’s must-win Game 5: PLAY BETTER!
It shouldn’t be hard for the Celtics to do so, after turning the ball over 19 times in Game 4. They didn’t play with the urgency a team that is trailing 2-1 should possess, and now they really need to play like their backs are against the wall on Friday night.
“It’s not ideal by any means, but you have to play one game to win that game. If you’re able to do that you get another opportunity,” Stevens said Thursday in his video chat with reporters. “Our focus only has to be on tomorrow night and playing better than how we played last night, and go from there.
“We have to play better. At the end of the day we’ve gone back, talked about what we need to do different. But we have to play better,” Stevens echoed. “Play with more assertiveness, aggressiveness on both ends of the floor. The way we were playing offensively bled into the defense in the first half. When we needed stops as the game went on, we stared to really roll offensively but we hadn’t created a night where they had felt us by then, so they were comfortable.
“We have to play better. There are no two ways around it,” he continued. “We still had our chances but they made the huge plays, and the turnovers were obviously very costly.”
After leading Game 3 wire-to-wire, the Celtics held just two leads in Game 4 — a 25-24 lead in the second quarter and then not again until they briefly went ahead 85-84 early in the fourth.
But seven fourth-quarter turnovers and some poor shot selection ultimately doomed any chance Boston had at escaping with a win.
Still, Celtics players were surprisingly confident following Wednesday night’s loss, and Stevens shares that conviction.
“I believe if we put forth our best effort, if we are locked in on what we need to accomplish and play with great authority and confidence, we can win any given game,” he said. “You’re not playing the score of the series as much as you play the importance of each possession. That’s the bottom line. We have to play each possession with the utmost importance.”
We’ll find out if the coach’s message was received loud and clear when Game 5 tips off shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Friday night. Otherwise, it will be the last time we see the 2019-20 Boston Celtics.