Finishing out games will be main focus for Celtics

Guard Phil Pressey suffered a sprained left ankle and is unlikely to play against the Timberwolves on Sunday.
John E. Sokolowski/USA Today
Guard Phil Pressey suffered a sprained left ankle and is unlikely to play against the Timberwolves on Sunday.

WALTHAM — With their exhibition season nearing an end, the Celtics hope to finish strong by finishing out games. They’ve struggled in that department, and have lost three games by 2 points or fewer.

As such, their exhibtion record stands at 1-5, but it could easily be 4-2 had they played more “complete” games rather than playing well in spurts.

After the Celtics’ 99-97 loss to Toronto on Wednesday, coach Brad Stevens touched on the subject and said his team had to become a 48-minute team instead of a 38-minute team.


So, heading into their last two exhibition games, the first of which is Sunday in Montreal against the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the second annual NBA Canada Series, the Celtics will focus on finishing.

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“Not necessarily the game, we missed quite a few layups on the last [road] trip,” Stevens said after practice Friday. “And you think about two 2-point losses, those can add up. There were a couple possessions where, if we dug deep, we would have been able to finish those better — finishing at the end of the shot clock and maybe making one more pass or being a little stronger in our last move.

“So finishing has been an emphasis today, and will continue to be moving forward.”

One issue for the Celtics late in games is finding the right rotation of players. They’ve been tinkering with the lineup and some players have sat out to rest or because of injury, so it hasn’t been easy to figure out the right mix.

“That’s one of the challenges that’s interesting about the preseason, having never gone through it,” Stevens said. “A lot of the guys that will be playing for you at the end of games, haven’t been in. So that is something to consider. Most often, it’s the five guys that complement each other the best. We’re getting there with those. Hopefully we can figure those out sooner rather than later.”


But Stevens is also new to the NBA, and he said he’s learned that the NBA game is bit like a marathon.

“It’s a long, long game with a ton of possessions,” he said.

In fact, Stevens recently said that in college, a team would typically have 70 possessions, whereas that figure is around 120 in an NBA game.

Obviously, that’s a vast difference.

“You have to be as good as you can on as many of those as possible,” Stevens said “and stay the course on those, and we have been for more minutes, but just not enough.”

Lineup taking shape


The Celtics have played the same starters for each of the last three exhibition games: guards Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford, and forwards Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Jared Sullinger .

Stevens said that they still plan to fine-tune the lineup. He added, “But I do like the way that those guys are playing, and I do like the way they play together.”

In terms of how many players he’d like to have in the rotation, Stevens said it would probably vary during the season, but that a 9- or 10-player rotation would be ideal.

Pressey injured

Stevens said guard Phil Pressey, who suffered a sprained left ankle in the exhibition loss against the Raptors, is unlikely to play Sunday.

“I’ve rolled it before,” Pressey said after sitting out practice. “But I know when I roll it, it’s going to hurt for a couple days. The training staff has really been getting me right and hopefully these next couple days I can be good.”

Kris Humphries missed the Toronto game with a sore right foot, though Stevens said he expects the forward to be available against the Timberwolves.

A foul lesson

Foul trouble has been a recent issue for rookie forward Kelly Olynyk, who has fouled out of the Celtics’ last two games.

Stevens had noted it can be tough for Olynyk because the 2013 first-round pick plays so hard. But what it boils down to, Stevens said, is picking your spots.

“You know, it happens sometimes,” Olynyk said. “You’ve just got to play with your feet, not your hands sometimes. Sometimes you’re fouling because you’re playing hard. Some fouls are unavoidable in a game, but you’ve just got to limit the ones that you can.”

Rooting interest

Stevens grew up an Indianapolis Colts fan and got to know many in the organization, especially former Colts coach Tony Dungy.

But Stevens is a bit torn about this Sunday’s game, when Denver quarterback Peyton Manning returns to Indianapolis to face his former team.

“I’ll tell you, that’s a hard game to watch,” Stevens said. “I’m glad we’re playing.”

That game is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m., and the Celtics will play earlier that night at 6 p.m. against Minnesota.

“But like everybody else that grew up in Indiana or has Indiana ties, you have to be thankful for what Peyton Manning did,” Stevens said. “What he did for that city, it’s unbelievable. That’s a basketball state. And it’s got a huge football bend to it. He had a huge role in that.”

Baxter Holmes can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.