After both Boston Celtics governor Wyc Grousbeck and general manager Danny Ainge defended Brad Stevens this week, Jayson Tatum offered his own endorsement on Thursday.
Speaking to Boston.com, Tatum said the Celtics as a whole — not just Stevens — need to shoulder responsibility for losing eight of their last 11 contests.
“Brad is great,” Tatum said. “He always has us prepared. It’s not like the lack of preparation with us, or game planning, or not knowing what we need to know, from a coaching standpoint.
“We’re all one team. So everyone has to take some take some blame, but Brad does more than his part. And I’m a big believer that there’s still other guys on the court that have to make the difference. So it’s not like it’s Brad’s fault. We’re all on the same team, the same organization. I guess we all could be better.”
Tatum added that the longer players are in the league, the better they learn how to block outside noise — good or bad.
“Since I’ve been in the NBA, there’s ups and downs to every season,” he said. “People are going to voice their opinion. That’s what people get paid to do. But for us, just focusing on things that you can control. You can’t control what people say about you on TV or on the internet. You only can control how you play and what you do on the court.”
If the season ended on Thursday, the Celtics — who lost 127-112 to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday — would not only be forced into the NBA’s new play-in tournament, they would have to win two games against the No. 7 seed just for an opportunity to play the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 or No. 2 seed in a best-of-seven series.
The Celtics lost to the Miami Heat in a six-game Eastern Conference Finals last year. Tatum said he still believes the Celtics as constructed are contenders.
“Obviously people might disagree, especially how we’ve been lately,” Tatum said. “But I know what we’re capable of. I don’t think talent is the issue. I think we’re just kind of in a slump right now, and obviously, we don’t have time to relax. We’ve got to figure it out. But I believe in myself. I believe in the guys in that locker room to do what it takes.”
Ainge is one person who might disagree that the Celtics are contenders. Speaking to 98.5 on Thursday, Ainge said the Celtics are playing “terribly.”
But he told the Globe that he doesn’t believe it’s time for the front office to do something drastic.
“There are some things that I didn’t foresee, but I think this is not a time to panic,” Ainge said. “This is just a stretch of basketball that none of us foresaw. It’s been frustrating for coaches and players, and I feel bad for them. I’ve been through it as a coach and player, and it’s not fun. It’s not fun for fans. It’s not fun for anybody.”
When asked by Boston.com, Tatum pushed back against the idea that the Celtics are worn down by a grueling stretch of travel and games, but he admitted the last year has been difficult.
“Being in the bubble, being one of the last four teams, quick turnaround, there’s been a lot to adjust to,” he said. “But at the same time, other teams have dealt with various things. Everyone’s dealing with this tough schedule. So it’s not like we’re the only ones going through something. So it’s just been a very unique last 365 days.”
Tatum said the Celtics will be better when Marcus Smart returns simply because every team wants to have its best players at full health.
Still, Tatum doesn’t want to use Smart’s absence as an excuse either.
“I feel like we still have enough to win games,” he said. “We really haven’t shown that lately.”