As is his style, Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens showed no panic about his team’s recent struggles, instead giving interim coach Joe Mazzulla a full endorsement for leading Boston to a 22-10 start after taking the job under unusual circumstances.
Stevens talked with reporters Friday for the first time since he and majority governor Wyc Grousbeck addressed Ime Udoka’s suspension in September. Stevens was in much better spirits despite the Celtics losing five of six games entering Friday’s game with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mazzulla remains the interim coach, a title Stevens said he will hold indefinitely until Udoka’s contract and long-term status are determined.
“We haven’t really talked about it recently,” Stevens said. “Our focus has been how to make this team and staff and give everything we need to make sure we’re as good as we can be.
“[Mazzulla is] running the show. A title is a title and we’ll have updates on a later date on all that other stuff [regarding Udoka]. He’s doing a good job and he’s running it like the head coach runs it.”
The Celtics got off to an NBA-best 21-5 start with stellar offensive production before their first real skid under Mazzulla. The Celtics have not been the same team since their Dec. 7 dismantling of the Suns, winning only once since, an overtime victory against the struggling Lakers that required a 13-point rally to force overtime.
“One of the things you have the benefit of in the seat I’m in now is getting a much more macro view of everything,” Stevens said. “I just think that when you’re in it (as coach), every play sits with you, every moment of a game sits with you, the losses sit with you. In a big way you rehash all those singular moments and to be able to then, OK look at a film objectively and take the emotion out of it, it’s tough. That’s why coaching at any level is hard.
“I want (Mazzulla) to know. I want our staff to know that I get it. I’ve lived it and when you have a three-game blip when we haven’t played very well or a two-week deal where we haven’t played very well, I’ve seen a lot of good to great teams do that. The key is how do you respond to that.”
Stevens said the offensive issues — 31.7 percent 3-point shooting, 109.5 points per game in December compared with 123.8 in November — is not the only genesis for the struggles.
“The easiest thing to do is point to shooting variance,” Stevens said. “I don’t look at the game that way. We’ve got to find a way as a team to improve because as the year goes on, if you stop trying to improve, that’s the day you stop being good. We’ve got to improve on both ends. We’ve done a better job defensively. I think we’ve added quite a bit of options for a coverage standpoint and [that] may come with some growing pains in the near terms but is really, really important as you get on later in the year.
“Offensively, I just think we’ve got to do our best to generate easier shots. There are ways to without making it more difficult on ourselves to get another layup a half. From my perspective, the last two weeks, we’ve looked like we’re in a little bit of a rut and make sure we don’t have halves like we did the other night. That was a rough one.”
The Celtics trailed Indiana, 71-43, at halftime Wednesday and were booed off the floor by the Celtics faithful.
Stevens said he will make the necessary roster adjustments to boost the Celtics into title contenders by the trade deadline.
“When I was coaching, I always told the guys let the game tell you what to do, well I’m going to let the game tell us what to do over the next couple of months,” Stevens said. “I’ve got to be able to sift through what’s a blip and what’s real.
“Listen, we want to win, there’s no question about it. We have a really good team and hopefully we are playing great over the next couple of months, but we’ll evaluate that and we’ll make decisions, right or wrong, we think may give us the best chance at winning.”
Stevens gave Mazzulla a full endorsement for the job he’s done.
“It’s been really good,” Stevens said of Mazzulla’s job performance. “Looking at where we started from the start of training camp, the leadership, the organization, the way that everybody embraced him, he’s very open to people to the different ideas that they have, maybe too open sometimes, he’s been great.
“I think we’ve shown ourselves to be a very capable team. I think we’re at our very best when the ball is flying around and when we’re really locked and active into the ball on defense. We can be really good.”
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.