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NEW YORK -- Shortly after Jeff Green hit a buzzer-beating winner in Miami last month, Brad Stevens' wife, Tracy, sent him a text that said, "Congratulations, you beat the Heat. Now you have to beat human nature."
The insinuation was that Stevens had to find a way to keep his team focused despite stunning the world champs on their home turf, and Stevens himself had begun worrying about Boston's next game from virtually the instant Green's 3-pointer ripped through the twine.
One month later, in New York, with the Celtics playing their best basketball of the season, Stevens watched his team flat-out demolish the Knicks in a 112-73 thrashing at Madison Square Garden.
|Celtics coach Brad Stevens reminds his team: "Never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you're never far from either."|
Human nature, of course, would be to celebrate, to puff out your chest and bask in the glow of a 41-point triumph over a team that was supposed to be in the mix for the Atlantic Division title. Human nature would be to celebrate being 6-2 over your past eight games and enjoy having a small cushion atop the division you weren't supposed to have any business competing in.
"I'm not doing cartwheels," Stevens said. "[Celtics players] know I'm not going to do cartwheels ... I just said, 'Keep being a team and keep playing together.' The other thing is that we need to keep building off the good things we are doing."
Stevens paused a moment to consider what he had revealed about his postgame speech, then smiled.
"It was boring as heck," he added. "It was boring as heck."
Make no mistake, the Celtics enjoyed the heck out of Sunday's win. Rehabbing point guard Rajon Rondo wore a permanent grin on the Boston bench, bouncing out of his seat with each of Mike Woodson's exasperated timeouts to greet his teammates and celebrate their efforts.
And while Boston's postgame locker room buzzed with energy as players made dinner plans for a rare night off in New York City (Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks serving as the team's Yelp, given the time they've spent in Brooklyn), there was also this notion that Boston couldn't rest on this victory very long.
That, of course, emanates from Stevens.
"Never as good as you think you are, never as bad as you think you are, and you're never far from either," Stevens said. "It's one of those days in a lot of ways. But, also, we played pretty well. Can we play like that every day? Probably not. But can we bring the same intensity level and be as much of a team as we were today? Hopefully."
The Celtics scored the game's first 12 points, 18 of the first 19, and led by as much as 25 in the first quarter. Despite getting whistled for 12 second-quarter fouls, the Celtics extended their lead before halftime, then blew the gates off the game by scoring the first eight points of the third quarter.
Jordan Crawford led the team in scoring for the third straight game with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting while making six 3-pointers. Jared Sullinger added 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting and was a team-best plus-43 in plus/minus (only padding his team-best numbers in that category).
The Knicks entered on the heels of two lopsided wins, having handled Brooklyn and Orlando the way Boston pummeled them. Carmelo Anthony finished with a team-high 19 points, but missed 10 of the 15 shots he took and was minus-40 overall.
"What Boston came in here and did was an embarrassment," Anthony said. "To lose like that on our home court, I think everyone should be pissed off right now."
The Celtics played infectious defense, particularly Brandon Bass -- who again embraced the challenge of guarding Anthony and excelled on both ends of the floor (he finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and a block over 32:22). Stevens said he just couldn't bring himself to pull Bass off the floor the way he was playing.
Bass was so locked in that he picked up a rare technical while barking at an official late in the third quarter for not getting a whistle while registering a putback in traffic. The Celtics were up by 37 at that point.
Stevens probably loved that sort of intensity. The Celtics hadn't put together a full 48 minutes this season, but rarely let off the pedal on Sunday. The emotion Bass showed is exactly what Stevens wants from his team every game, every quarter and every possession.
Alas, a win is a win is a win. And it doesn't matter if it's by 41 or one. They all count the same. So Stevens downplayed the significance of the lopsided final.
"I've already learned in this league, you can be on the good end or the bad end of [games like this]," Stevens said. "We were lucky today to be on the good end. Everything we did will get over-exaggerated, everything they did will get over-exaggerated, but the bottom line is, we just played better today for 48 minutes."
And then he couldn't resist needling his team a tiny bit.
"And we played almost 48 minutes, which is good," Stevens said.
Yes, he left open the possibility that Boston could somehow play even better than it did. By not admitting his team played a complete game, he can show up at practice Monday with a list of areas that need some fine-tuning.
Let's not forget who the next opponent is, either. Boston visits old friend Kevin Garnett and the struggling Nets on Tuesday. Brooklyn is in utter disarray and human nature would be to maybe overlook them a bit.
Stevens won't let that happen.