MEMPHIS — Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.
He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.
Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.
“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”
Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.
“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.
“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”
Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.
“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”
One person who could help boost those shooting percentages is shooting guard Avery Bradley, who has missed the last three games with a sore left hip.
Bradley said he will return for Sunday’s game against the Grizzlies.
Bradley, the team’s leading 3-point shooter, was a full participant in Saturday’s practice.
“He’s certainly our best at running off screens and shooting,” Stevens said. “He can get going. When you’re missing him, you’re going to take a dip inevitably over the course of a number of games.”
Bradley said he’s not 100 percent, but good enough to play.
“It bothered me a little bit but for the most part I feel good,” he said. “I had a workout [Friday], I went pretty hard and went up for a dunk and kind of hurt myself a little bit. I feel a little bit better [Saturday].”
When asked about the team’s struggles from beyond the arc, Bradley said: “I think just taking easy shots, that’s the most important thing for us. Sometimes we take the first shot, which isn’t always the best shot for us. That hurts us. That doesn’t get us moving the ball. That’s not what kind of team we are.”
Before Stevens left for Indiana, Thomas and backup forward David Lee alluded to the inconsistent playing rotations as perhaps the reason for the team’s up-and-down season. Lee revealed Stevens told him he was out of the regular rotation and he has not played in the last three games.
“I’d love to know every day exactly who’s going to play for us,” Stevens said. “I think they would, too. But the reality is we have good players who have a lot of even ability to affect the game . . . It’s our challenge, we knew that going in.”
Lee said he disagreed with Stevens’s decision to remove him from the rotation, but said he was going to prepare himself for his first opportunity to return. He was sprinting up and down the floor after practice, working on his wind.
“I read what David said and that’s what he should say,” Stevens said. “That was a great quote that exhibited his teamness and his desire.
“That is a frustrating thing but these guys have come to work every day and they’ve all had good practices [Saturday]. I credit them for their professionalism.”