What Celtics need to learn from Rockets


Whether it’s Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge or any of the Celtics players, one of this team’s 2019-20 themes has been “we need to be better.” Even as they’ve shocked the rest of the league with big wins or put up fights like they did against the Rockets on Saturday, growth is something they continue to preach.

That commitment to further development has served them well. The emphasis on that theme has helped Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown take their level of play to new heights.

JAYLEN SENDS IT TO OT!!! pic.twitter.com/E5SMOss32I

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 1, 2020

But for all of the Celtics’ growth, they were once again on the wrong side of a thriller on Saturday. Not only did they lose a tough 111-110 battle, this time the Celtics saw a 17-point lead slip away. (For a complete recap of the Celtics' loss, click here.)

“I thought the right team won,” Brad Stevens said on Saturday. “Their physical presence is real. And so, I think that’s — when they turned it up a notch physically in the second half, we got stagnant because they were imposing their will on the game, and they can do that. It’s not a knock on our guys necessarily by any means. It’s just that that’s their strength of their team.”

Spot on. Stevens is absolutely right. The Rockets set the tone for Saturday’s game late — and this isn’t the first time he’s talked about an opposing team taking control following a Celtics loss.

But this instance is different.

When opponents clearly set the tone earlier in the season, the Celtics hadn’t found themselves yet. Needless to say, chemistry hasn’t exactly been an issue for this year’s team, Saturday’s loss being no exception.

The problem is the Rockets came into the Garden and said, “This is our game, we're taking it.” Didn’t matter they were down double digits at halftime. Whether or not things were going their way, at any given point in the game, the Rockets played with a “get out of my face” attitude.

Now, that starts with Russell Westbrook. James Harden has his own thing going on, but it’s clear P.J. Tucker and Danuel House follow the 2017 NBA MVP’s lead. Same goes for the new guy, Robert Covington.

Marcus cuts it to 1️⃣! pic.twitter.com/6MYoSC47N0

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) March 1, 2020

This doesn’t mean Marcus Smart or someone else needs to try and adopt Westbrook’s approach. The Celtics don’t need to pretend they’re anyone else, especially not the Rockets, who dominate through physicality — whereas the Celtics operate at their best when their fluid, operating as a cohesive unit.

Also, there’s no need for the Celtics to completely adopt another team’s identity when they’re already one of the best teams in the NBA. But, this is where the problem lies: the Celtics need to approach games like they’re one of the best teams in the league. That’s one thing the Rockets do well, and it’s the next step for Boston.

“We still have another level we can go to,” Brown said. “Tonight we fell short, but it's another good learning lesson, another great game for us to build off of and learn.”

Rather than focus on proving teams should be afraid of them, the Celtics need to show why the fears that now exist in teams are legitimate.

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