There’s something different about the Boston Celtics — a subtle switch in their demeanor, attitude, and approach, of late.
First, it was Marcus Smart calling out CLNS Media’s The Garden Report for its criticism of his top-tier defense. Then, Tristan Thompson’s elephant-like memory led to him pulling The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor’s card for his bogus report, and finally, after Wednesday’s victory against the (somewhat) overachieving New York Knicks, it was head coach Brad Stevens’ turn.
Fending off the Knicks was far from a statement win for this year’s Celtics team. In fact, the game nearly slid through their fingers.
Knotted at 93, Marcus Smart’s clutch 3-pointer from Jayson Tatum broke the tie with 36.4 seconds left to play. The two rejoiced as if they could simultaneously feel the pressure being lifted off the Celtics’ proverbial shoulders.
Boston would have felt the wrath that comes with losing back-to-back games at home in the midst of a seven-game homestand. Especially, against two teams that are an accurate depiction of the Eastern Conference’s playoff spectrum.
On one end, there’s the contending Philadelphia 76ers — which is a team that the Celtics hope they can ultimately match up against if they’re to make a deep playoff run with only 20 games left in the regular season. And on the other end is a playoff hopeful in New York; the Celtics proved to be somewhere in between.
Brad Stevens On Tristan Thompson’s Playing Time: ‘I’m Doing My Best’
After edging out the Knicks, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was asked about veteran center Tristan Thompson, who returned to the floor for the first time since March 14. He finished with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks; he was tremendous for the Celtics.
Stevens informed reporters that Thompson would be playing in “short bursts” against the Knicks prior to tip-off but never specified if there would, technically, be a minutes restriction set in place. However, when he was asked about Thompson playing over 22 minutes in Wednesday’s win, Stevens had a snippy response to the observing question.
“He went a little bit above, maybe he was at like 20-22 (minutes),” Stevens said. “So, he went eight seconds past his minute limit. That’s pretty good, I’m doing my best.”
Brad Stevens On Tristan Thompson’s Role: ‘We Don’t Have Very Many Vets’
While Stevens didn’t imply a minutes restriction would be in place, he did, however, say Thompson would not be playing a lot of minutes in a row.
“Short bursts,” Stevens said prior to tip-off when asked about Tristan’s availability. “(He’s) not going to play a lot of minutes in a row.”
But, Brad did specify just how important Thompson’s role with the Celtics will be. Especially, in the wake of Daniel Theis, Boston’s former starting center, being dealt.
“We don’t have very many vets as it is, right? Except for the young guys that have been here with us,” Stevens said before taking on the Knicks. “Marcus (Smart) and Jaylen (Brown), and Jayson (Tatum); I guess you can consider them vets now, and then, obviously, Kemba (Walker) but with (Evan) Fournier in and Kemba out, you can feel that, a little bit. We need Tristan back. Obviously, with the (Daniel) Theis trade — that is enormous to have him back.”
Between Thompson’s veteran leadership and the ascension of Robert Williams; the two will serve as the backbone of the center position.
“He’ll play a lot when Rob (Williams) is not,” Stevens said. “But, I thought that Luke (Kornet) came in and showed us that he can do some things and Mo (Wagner) has done some things, and I thought Tacko (Fall) did OK last night, too. We’re going to need everybody but there’s no doubt that our center rotation will start with Rob and Tristan.”