He still hasn’t really broken character, which is, of course, easier when you possess the character of Brad Stevens. The coach has been your basic duck on the water of this Boston Celtics season, generally calm above the waves and paddling furiously beneath them.

But there also have been times when his gears appeared to be visibly grinding while answering for some performances during the 11-10 start.

“I don’t think you should avoid reality,” Stevens said, “and the reality is we haven’t been as good as we’ve wanted to be. But at the same time you just have to get back in the lab and work.”

There’s much do be done. The Celtics have lacked effort at times, particularly on defense, and appeared caught up too often with individual concerns. For a team that was favored to win the Eastern Conference – and may still get there – it’s been an unseemly sight.

Stevens was asked if it’s been tough to maintain his composure.

“I mean, at times you get frustrated,” he said, “but I think that even when you’re in the middle of a good run, when you win 16 straight, you’re so conscious of what’s coming next.”

In both public and private conversations, the players seem to understand Stevens is feeding them good plans. They know he’s preaching things that work. But some also will acknowledge it’s been hard to shift to a lesser role after you’ve had some success.

So as Stevens prepares to contest an opponent’s sets, he’s also having to fight the human nature in his own dressing room.

“I’m sure it’s been challenging for him,” said Al Horford. “It’s been challenging on all of us, just dealing with the expectations, and so far we’ve underperformed as a group. I know there’s only so much that he can do and control.

“I think as players we’re starting to understand and trying to do better, but I definitely think it’s been probably one of the more challenging years since I’ve been here.”

Stevens batted back that notion.

“I think every season is,” he said. “I’ve lived this before certainly at Butler, having everybody back and then ultimately going to a Final Four, and then coming off of a Final Four. It’s obviously different because it’s the NBA and the games come so quick, but there are a lot more similarities than not.

“It’s a funny thing. The answer is always, whether you’re rolling or whether you’re struggling, get in and get to work. And that’s been consistent through the good days, the bad days and every day in between.”

That second Final Four team at Butler took a while to get going, and Stevens had an idea this Celts season could be the same. In a September conversation, he had a premonition about the defensive diligence.

“I’ve watched teams before have really good years and then kind of go through the motions on (defense), he said. “And we can’t do that.”

Sometimes these Celtics have. It looked easier for Stevens in previous years when he was coaching some lesser talents trying to claw their way into more substantial NBA careers. But it can be trying to deal with players who are, quote-unquote, more ready to contend for a championship.

“Probably the quote-unquote part,” Stevens said, essentially pointing out the fallacy of the more-ready concept. “You know, you’re good if you play good. That’s it. That’s it. So you strive to work hard to play good and when you don’t, you go back at it and try to get better.

“Everybody we’re playing against is in the NBA for a reason. The difference between being great and good and not so good is just doing it every day. That’s the thing that you learn, and that’s what you respect so much about scorers like Kyrie (Irving). I mean, they get 20 every night. That’s really hard to do against the best players in the world, and I think that’s something everybody has to learn as they go through this.”

That last part can be taken as a fairly pointed remark about those who’ve had some big games in the past and haven’t yet fully grasped the consistency part of the equation.

“That’s part of the fun of coaching – going through the good times and tough times with all the individuals that comprise a team,” Stevens said. “That’s why when teams come together and when teams play at their best level, there’s nothing more rewarding than being part of that.”

That’s also why he deferred on whether this is his most difficult Celtic year.

“I’ll tell you at the end,” Stevens said. “Who knows? It’s a long journey and we’ll see how it pans out.”

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