WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics are 5-2 in their past seven games, they've made strides in a lot of areas of glaring weakness at the start of the season (turnovers, defensive rebounding, transition defense) and they are about to embark on a two-game New York road trip with a chance to further solidify their position atop the Atlantic Division.
But first-year coach Brad Stevens knows it can all be very fleeting and is imploring his team to stay focused on the daily process of getting better.
"It’s just so fragile, because winning is hard to do," Stevens said. "Sometimes you think all is good, but you throw a shot in over the backboard and you win the game, then you feel like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to happen every day.’ That’s not going to happen. It’s so fragile that every little thing has to get better.
"What we have to get day-by-day better at is understanding each other and putting ourselves in the best position for 48 minutes. I think you saw that [Friday] night [against the Denver Nuggets]. We were really good for most of the game, but our stretch that we weren’t, we weren’t very good. We can’t afford those stretches, it’s just not good enough."
And it's that 48 minutes of consistency that Stevens craves most now. The recent wins are nice, but Stevens knows the only way to sustain that success is to be able to play 48 minutes on a nightly basis. The worst teams in the NBA are the ones that are consistently inconsistent.
"It doesn’t matter to me, as far as the total number of wins, it’s more about playing good basketball," Stevens said. "It’s not about putting any additional heat on our team, or anybody else. It’s just about, can we continue to play good basketball? I think we’ve played good basketball in losses that we’ve grown from. And I think we’ve played good basketball in wins. We’ve played one or two wins where we haven’t played as good and we probably didn’t get enough out of it. I’m a lot less concerned about the result. Obviously, you want to go down [to New York] and win, but that isn’t the end-all, be-all, regardless, this weekend. But it is an important thing for us to continue to improve, that’s where the importance lies."
A few more notes from Saturday's brief practice session at HealthPoint before the team traveled to New York in advance of Sunday's brunch with the Knicks:
OLYNYK OUT SUNDAY, BUT WILL BE PUT TO WORK: The Celtics engaged in a light walk-through/film session on Saturday, so rookie Kelly Olynyk didn't do anything to really test his injured right ankle. The team plans to put him through a more intense workout before Sunday's game in New York with hopes that he'll be ready to then jump back into practice on Monday. Said Stevens: "He told me he’s feeling a little bit better. I don’t know exactly what that means. But I know he’s not playing [Sunday]." Asked what his biggest limitation is at the moment, Olynyk noted, "Just going at 100 percent -- max strength, max jump, all that pushing off." Olynyk, who sprained his right ankle last month against the Pacers, engaged in some post-practice shooting, but confirmed that he hopes to be back at practice on Monday and would be day-to-day after that. For now, he's doing all he can to learn and grow off the court despite missing seven straight games. "You can’t let your mind take a vacation, even if your body can’t physically be out there," Olynyk said. "You have to still be dialed in, still learning, growing, and being a great teammate."
STEVENS LIKES C'S DEPTH: Boston's first unit staked the Celtics to a big early lead during Friday's visit from the Denver Nuggets, then it was the reserves who fended off Denver's second-half surge. Stevens said he's happy with the balance between the starters and the bench at the moment. "I think we have a lot of flexibility, in large part because we have a lot of evenness," Stevens said. "On any given day, if 1 through 5 aren’t ready, 6 through 10 are better. And it’s hard to even say that we have a 1 through 5 or a 6 through 10, it’s more like a 1 through 10. Because they are all really even and they can all impact the game in a lot of different ways. It's probably 1 through beyond-that, because I think Keith [Bogans] can come in and do things for us and he will, he’ll get his chance. And MarShon [Brooks], we’ve seen what MarShon can do in limited minutes. We haven’t been healthy all year and we won’t be until [Rajon] Rondo's back. But until then, we’re going to have to depend on everybody and that’s where the evenness helps."
RISE AND SHINE? The Celtics will play a matinee with a noon tip on Sunday in New York. How does that affect players? "It’s real different for me," said veteran Gerald Wallace. "It takes a lot more to get yourself going early in the morning. It’s going to be whichever team comes out and takes [control] of the game." Wallace was asked if there's any mystique left playing at Madison Square Garden. "No, not now. Not anymore," said Wallace. Asked when it wore off, Wallace noted, "The first time I went there. I saw a rat the first time I went there. I was kinda shook off of that. It was different to me."