Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big storyline. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
“I also realize that we’re in a situation where we have a lot of guys going through it for the first time, and there is a confidence to winning that you gain from earning winning. And we have a lot of guys that haven’t done that, and we have some that have. And, you know, we’ll make sure that we do everything we can to earn that confidence with our work.”
“I think that what some people don’t realize is that sometimes confidence — lack of confidence in one another, a lack of belief, a lack of individual belief in one’s own abilities — comes and goes over the course of the season,” Ainge said.
The win over Phoenix, though, started the Celtics back in the right direction after a disappointing loss to Chicago on Tuesday night. After starting the night in sixth place, the Celtics moved into a tie with inactive Atlanta for fifth, and just a half-game behind the fourth-place Knicks.
Walker, who had missed the Chicago loss along with Marcus Smart due to non-COVID-related illnesses, came back strong against the Suns. Showing off the success of his knee rest program, Walker tied his season high with a 32-point, 11-for-17, performance while the night’s two billed stars, Tatum (15 points, 3-for-17) and Phoenix guard Devin Booker (15 points, 6-for-13, four charges) struggled to find their range.
Walker and Marcus Smart both made the evening difficult for Booker — Smart guarding the Phoenix guard on most possessions, and Walker getting in the way consistently enough to draw three charges.
“I was just taking the shots available to me, making the plays available to me — whatever the defense gave me,” said Walker, “I tried to respond to that. Some shots went in. My teammates played so well. We played so hard.
“Smarty, he played a great game defensively. His impact was just second-to-none. He really got us going,” he said. “JT played a great game. I know he didn’t shoot the ball as well as he would like to, but I thought he did a great job at doing other things, which is a great sign. We had guys off the bench – Jabari (Parker), Grant (Williams), Payton (Pritchard) — played super, super well. It was just a great team win — Romeo (Langford) — I know some of those guys’ numbers might not show it, but they played well. They was just really, really solid tonight.”
“Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.”
It’s been roughly two months since that assortment of Boston fans who oscillate between insufferably smug when their teams are winning and irrationally angry when their teams are losing were, well, irrationally angry on a chronic basis.
What Brad Stevens said after that particularly dispiriting loss to the Hawks resonated with me—the poor play of the C’s was not just about the wildly inconsistent lineups forced on the team by health problems, it was also about a lack of confidence.
Well, as you can see clearly for yourself, the team has rediscovered its confidence, and the importance of that confidence simply cannot be understated. Guys that lack confidence in themselves, in their teammates and in their coach play with hesitation. Not the kind of hesitation that would allow a team of five ordinary guys—or a team of college players—to beat them, but with enough hesitation that they’re going to struggle against any NBA team.
It’s an old saw that an amateur practices until he gets it right; a professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.
Well, if you lack confidence, instead of just reacting, doing what you’ve learned almost by instinct, there’s an instant where your brain says, ‘is this the right move?’ and you have to conduct a bit of inner dialogue before acting—and that shows up in either missing a gap or creating one, depending on whether you’re on offense or defense.
And it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. Rather than saying, “I missed that read because I overthought it,” you conclude, “I did what I was supposed to do and it didn’t work.”
When you’re locked in, you’re not thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing at any given moment:
Bird never understood the “What were you thinking” questions he received following games.
“I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “I was thinking about my grandmother, wondering what she’s doing today. I was totally out of that arena. I was just playing by flow.”
Here’s his description of being “in a zone”:
“My mind was so far away from basketball when that happens. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it’s true.”
The C’s are clearly back in that zone.
And you’ve gotta love Kemba getting back into a groove. That dude does not deserve the hate that the C’s fanbase has lavished on him this season.
Page 2: Where John is still pessimistic
I wonder if the Celtics risk becoming the Blazers of the East.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a good team, but they’re carried by Damian Lillard. He makes them good enough that people think they’re on the cusp of being a true contender, but year after year they never really seem to get there.
The Celtics’ two stars combined are better than Portland’s combo of Lillard and C.J. McCollum, so the Celtics are further along than Portland, but part of Portland’s problem is that Dame and C.J. are expensive and that handcuffs what they can do.
The Celtics don’t play by the same financial rules as some of the other big market teams.
They don’t own their own building, which is a big impediment. The Golden State Warriors keep every penny of profit from their building. The New York Knicks are owned by James Dolan, who runs the MSG company, which generates more than the GDP of 43 countries (congratulations Togo, you’re too expensive for Dolan to buy and ruin).
The Celtics are in a big market but they don’t have all of the same big market advantages. They pay rent for their building. They have a stake in their local network but they don’t own it. They are in a major market but the weather is cold and the city lacks a certain luster for young millionaires (I hate to say that last line, but it’s true. New York is one of the world’s glamor cities and Chicago is super cool and both cities are open late. Their weather sucks too but those are fun cities for young star athletes while Boston offers last call at 1:45).
The money matters in Boston a little bit more. Getting the draft right in Boston matters a little bit more. The margin for error is a little bit slimmer.
It’s an interesting thought, and variations of it have been tossed around for several years now. Back when Ainge was building the team, there was a fair amount of handwringing over the prospect that the C’s would end up stuck in the NBA’s middleclass. Too good to draft impact talent and not good enough to contend or attract the best free agents.
My response then was that mediocre teams have mediocre coaches and mediocre GMs. They make ‘safe’ decisions with a view to preserving their jobs. Mediocrity is not a function of where you finish in any given year, it’s a function of how you approach the task in front of you. If you make average moves—the sort of moves that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in any front office or bench—you’re going to have an average team.
And by referencing Chicago and New York, John actually undermines his own argument. New York is undergoing one of its periodic fits of competence, but like Chicago apart from the Jordan years, the Knicks are a clear demonstration that money is no substitute for brains.
Yes, Boston has certain disadvantages compared to other teams when it comes to purely financial considerations—but those considerations are far from the final word in what it takes to assemble a championship caliber team.
The rest of the links
MassLive: Celtics’ Kemba Walker finding his shot and health, just in time as Boston makes a playoff push | Terrence Clarke, a Boston-area basketball star who played at Kentucky, dies after car accident Thursday in Los Angeles | Kemba Walker’s hot shooting leads Boston Celtics to 99-86 win over Phoenix Suns
NBC Sports: How red-hot Kemba Walker got his groove back for Boston Celtics | RSN (nbcsports.com) | Celtics vs. Suns observations: Well-rested Kemba Walker powers C’s to win | RSN (nbcsports.com) | Celtics’ health woes complicating quest to gauge team’s progress | RSN (nbcsports.com)