WALTHAM — Although this was considered a rebuilding season with a slew of new players, a new coach, and an unproven core, the Celtics are finding some losses difficult to digest.
The Celtics’ 105-103 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Friday night, when they were outscored, 8-2, in the final three minutes, is one such game. The Celtics are headed for the draft lottery, the losses continue to mount, and management expected and almost planned for this. Yet the constant disappointment is difficult.
“These games and last night’s game in particular, I woke up multiple times, let’s put it that way,” coach Brad Stevens said before his club participated in a light practice on Saturday. “Hard to go back to sleep because you think about everything that you could have controlled and controlled better, and credit [the Raptors] for their two offensive possessions. They made big plays.
“Those are the plays that don’t sit well with me. And it’s about me. I’m the one, I could have been better in that situation.”
Despite the defeats, the Celtics feel they’re establishing a positive culture. Unlike several teams around the league who are spiraling downward and losing by large margins, the Celtics are taking more talented opponents late into the fourth quarter before losing.
“We’re working on it,” forward Jared Sullinger said. “It’s not easy to develop a culture. We’re still trying to develop it. It takes time. Rome wasn’t build in a year. It takes multiple years, multiple efforts to build a culture. [Giving up], that’s other teams. That’s not us. We can only play the way we play.”
Jerryd Bayless, who is averaging 11.1 points and shooting 42.4 percent from the 3-point line since the All-Star break, believes the team is sticking together.
“I think Brad is doing a good job,” Bayless said. “We play the right way most nights, which is kind of refreshing. When you’re playing the right way, moving the ball, everybody is touching it, it’s a fun way to play. If we continue to do that and on the defensive end keep to our fundamentals and principles, hopefully it all works out.
“There’s times where the situation, especially at the end of the year, things can get selfish. I think everybody has seen that on other teams. It’s refreshing with this team. The ball’s still moving. We’re still playing the right way and we have to continue to do that, until the end.”
Asked if he could take something constructive from the losses, Stevens said: “I hope so. We’ve all got to finish better. We’ve all got to take every detail all the way through the game better.
“Any time you’re playing with a team that’s not one of the top five, six, seven, eight teams in the league and you know that, every detail matters even more. The first 36 minutes matters just as much as the last one. We’ve just got to get better at it.”
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After Friday night’s game, Celtics forward Brandon Bass, who was not available Saturday, said that the team’s starting five, outscored, 77-75, by their Toronto counterparts, need better chemistry. Bass said the starting group has to play to its strengths in comparison to the bench, which has been carrying the team of late.
Stevens did not disagree.
“That’s an interesting comment,” the coach said. “I think throughout different times guys get in different rhythms. It’s an interesting thing to pose from the standpoint of, do you make one change and does that help both groups or does that hurt one of the groups because right now we are getting a ton in that second group. They’re playing with a great rhythm. They change how we can play because of the way we can space the floor.
“At the same time, I thought our most physical plays were with our first group [Friday] night. I didn’t think the first group was bad. They actually played pretty well at the start. They played pretty well at the start of the third quarter and then we started subbing a little bit and the end of the third quarter was not good.”
Stevens said he is considering changing the starting lineup and the adjustment would likely come in the frontcourt, where Bass, Jeff Green, and Kris Humphries start. Humphries has struggled of late, while Sullinger has thrived in his reserve role. Stevens also said he wants to get former Miami Heat big man Joel Anthony into more games to determine how he blends with other players.
Anthony could be around next season. He has a $3.8 million player option that he is expected to exercise.