Your team is up by four, on the road, with three minutes to play.
A two-minute scoreless drought immediately ensues, and your team finds itself down two with three seconds left. Your team gets a shot off, but it’s not a great one, and the game ends with the home walking away from a hard-fought battle the victors.
If this was a playoff game, the losing coach would be devastated, probably unable to sleep at night. However, if this was a game won by a playoffs-bound team against one of the 5-6 worst teams in the NBA, the losing coach would probably slap his hands, say “We gave it a shot,” and spin it as a moral victory, right?
Not if the losing coach is Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics, who woke up multiple times throughout Friday night/Saturday morning, haunted by the final minutes of Friday night’s game between the Celtics and the Toronto Raptors. Said Stevens,
It’s hard to go back to sleep because you think about everything you could have controlled and controlled better. The stuff that keeps me up at night is the stuff I can control. Whether it’s helping to get more out of an individual, to coach better from a psychological standpoint, or to be better (from an) Xs and Os standpoint, I’ve got to do better. So that’s what I’m going to continue to hold myself to.
Given the circumstances Stevens and his Celtics have found themselves in this season, with a team that lost two Hall of Famers during the offseason and has been further gutted by trades that all but guaranteed the Celtics would be lucky to win 25 games this year, it would be easy for him to go to bed feeling good about the fact that his team was even in such a close game. Who would blame him if he slept like a baby, proud that this roster of spare parts had once again defied expectations by putting itself in the unlikely position to win? Shouldn’t Stevens sleep well with the knowledge that, with a vastly improved roster at his disposal in the near future, these types of near-misses will surely transform into thrilling victories?
Apparently, Brad Stevens isn’t satisfied with moral victories. The fact that his team was in a position to win a ballgame, and failed to do so, is all that concerns him, and he’s even going so far as to blame himself. This is precisely the reason why I believe that the Boston Celtics will be back in the playoffs before most “experts” – professional writers and die-hard Celtics fans alike – predict. You get the feeling that, no matter who Boston threw on his roster – that even if he was being forced to play kids who had just wrapped up their high school basketball career – Stevens would expect his team to be in a position to win the game in the closing seconds. Furthermore, he is not looking at his roster and telling himself, “That play would have worked if only we had ____ on our team;” Stevens is going to second-, third- and quadruple-guess his play-calling no matter if it is Jared Sullinger or Kevin Durant taking the final shot.
We’ve got a keeper, Ladies and Gentlemen! I’m calling it now: Brad Stevens WILL take the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals at least once in his NBA coaching career – and even after he does, losses like the one Boston suffered in Toronto will probably still wake him from time to time.