WALTHAM, Mass. – Week 1 of the 2017-18 regular season was as hectic as could be for the Boston Celtics, as the new-look squad was hit with a plethora of key injuries while tackling three games in four nights.
The C’s lost star free-agent acquisition Gordon Hayward five minutes after Tuesday’s Opening Night tip-off when he went down with a potentially season-ending left leg injury. Marcus Smart rolled both of his ankles the following night against Milwaukee, and has yet to practice since. Meanwhile, veteran forward Marcus Morris remains sidelined after suffering a knee injury during training camp, and will not be re-evaluated until next week.
That’s a lot of obstacles to overcome in such a short period of time – especially for such a young and unfamiliar group of players. But rather than panic, the team has utilized its last three days to collectively step back, take a deep breath and get back to the basics as they move ahead with the rest of the season.
“I think Brad [Stevens] has dialed back a little bit,” wing Jaylen Brown said Monday afternoon following practice in Waltham, Massachusetts. “We’ve simplified things a little bit and are taking it one page at a time. [Coach] said in the locker room the other day, ‘We don’t even have to be on the right page; just as long as we’re on the same page, we’ll be alright.’”
Getting on the same page is critical for a team that features 10 new faces, including six rookies. Stevens is just trying to make it as easy as possible for everyone to adjust and begin to grow together.
“It’s just one of those things that you gotta do piece by piece,” said Stevens. “I don’t think putting in 50 new things is good for anybody. I think we’ve got a good foundation in that we can build off of and tweak off of, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
“And then defensively,” added the coach, “we have to be really good and play to our strengths, and we need a lot of contributions from a lot of people. So I think it’s about simplifying as much as we can with the offensive stuff, but then making sure that we’re playing to the strengths of the guys that are out there.”
Brown said there have been so many changes over the last week that it’s almost like going through a second training camp.
“We’re still figuring stuff out and almost putting together a whole new game plan in a sense,” said Brown, whose team picked up its first win of the season Friday night in Philadelphia. “Anytime you have an All-Star that’s not going to be on the floor with you, you’ve gotta do things a little bit different.”
Brown’s offensive surge (17.3 points per game) is the source of one of those differences. He, along with the rest of his teammates have had to step up and take on more responsibility with the absence of three of their veteran leaders.
So far, Stevens is pleased with how everyone has filled in.
“They’ve put in a lot of good work,” said Stevens, speaking specifically of Boston’s youngsters. “A lot of those guys have worked out and prepared for their time all the way through, and so I’m excited about where they are. But I’m also not naive enough to not think we have a long way to go.”
Yes, this season will be a process for Boston. And it will surely be a character-testing campaign for its players. But as long as they all remain patient and stay on the same page, things should work themselves out as they begin to move forward.
“It takes time, learning experience, trials and tribulations,” said Brown. “With practices and games and experience, it’s going to help us come together. Everybody knows we have a lot of new players trying to come together, so we’re trying to do that as fast as possible.
“It’s super important to stay in the moment and just breathe. Guys have been a little bit flustered with everything that’s been going on, but after everybody settles into their roles, everybody settles in, doing what they need to do every single night, I think we’ll be fine.”
Boston will look to continue the development process Tuesday night when it hosts the New York Knicks at TD Garden.