NEW YORK – After the Boston Celtics blew up their last lead of the season in a agonizing 108-105 defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, coach Aim Odoka repeatedly called up his team for their lack of mental toughness.
“I think it’s a lack of mental strength to fight back in these tough times,” Odoka said after Knicks forward Barrett completed a 3-point bell for the Knicks’ 25-point comeback to stun the Celtics. “For your point of view, it’s comprehensive. It’s a spin here, a bad shot here, a missed defensive job here, and a lot of rebounds tonight.
“So there’s a lot of different things. And then, like I said, being so calming to slow it down and get what we want is really what you need at that point. And sometimes we all get caught up in that.”
Boston has now led by four lead by at least 19 points this season – two more than any other team in the NBA – and has been one of the NBA’s worst fourth-quarter teams this season. The Celtics are ranked 26th in offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency in the fourth quarter, and are ranked 29th in the net rankings, being surpassed by 8.7 points per 100 possessions.
And after Thursday’s loss to the Knicks, they found themselves sitting in a tie with Atlanta for 11th in the Eastern Conference — not only outside of the playoffs but championship places as well.
Many of the losses that have put the Celtics in this predicament have come in a similar fashion to how they lost on Thursday – fourth-quarter meltdowns and late-game crashes. In order to change that, Odoka said, his team’s style in those moments must change.
“They bother men when it’s not the end of the world,” Odoka said. “You still have a comfortable 12-point lead, and you have to finish that run.
“We have to understand the time and the score, and we need a strong shot and not just get caught up in the game. You have to play the game differently in the first quarter than in the fourth. It’s different when the team is running, when you stop and go out running.
“It’s not an open gym. You can’t play the same way you play the whole game. So we have to understand that better, get the quality of the shot that we want to stop the run and not get caught up in four and five guys playing it wrong and it starts to snowball.” “.
The latter scenario has happened more often than not for Boston (18-21) this season, including a Thursday night loss. After dominating the game the entire first half, the Celtics allowed the Knicks to return to the game two long separate times in the third quarter, before New York eventually returned in the fourth.
“We just have to regroup,” said Celtics star Jason Tatum, who had 36 points, including a jump with 1.5 seconds left, and tied with Boston at least for a while. “Obviously the losses, this extended kind of hard, losing the lead and not ending up in the fourth quarter.
“I think we just have to look at the big picture and the big scheme of things and look back at those years we were going to the conference finals and that makes you really appreciate those moments. Because it’s tough. It’s not easy.”
“I think early on, maybe in my freshman year, I thought that was normal. I won all those games, winning games in the playoffs, and maybe I take it a little bit for granted. But to enjoy those moments, things like this happen and I think it makes you appreciate times like this. More, just knowing how hard it is to win this league.”
Boston is sure to learn that the hard way — and over a long period of time. After the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals three times in four seasons, Boston was exactly .500 during the regular season last year, and is now guaranteed to be under 0.500 when they reach the middle of the season next week.
All this season, Odoka – in a stark departure from the way his predecessor, and now Celtics head of basketball operations, Brad Stevens, would operate with the media – after his team played on the field in the post-game media sessions. .
But Thursday’s session was his toughest criticism yet, when he clearly said his team needed to be smarter and tougher in the late and close positions.
“The outcome was the same and there’s a kind of mental toughness there, where something a little bad happens and we all start dropping our heads,” Odoka said.
The Celtics will now return to Boston to face the Knicks again Saturday night, as they will try to correct their problems and get their season back on track.
“We’ve been shaken a lot, especially when we’re facing adversity,” said Robert Williams, Celtics center. “We just have to find it in ourselves, the determination and the fight, to unite only when nothing is going our way.”