BOSTON -- This just doesn’t make sense.
We all knew the Boston Celtics would be a better team than the one that got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year by Atlanta.
But admit it.
Few not on the Celtics payroll felt this team had a shot at finishing with the best record in the East.
Cleveland is too talented, too star-studded, too veteran savvy, too . . . they got LeBron James for crying out loud!
And yet here they are with one game left on the regular season docket, and all they have to do in order to finish with the best record in the East is win one more game, against the Milwaukee Bucks, at the TD Garden.
There is a certain surreal feeling to what the Celtics (52-29) are on the cusp of accomplishing when you consider all that has not gone their way this season.
Avery Bradley is an All-NBA First Team defender and one of the best two-way players nobody talks enough about in this league. He missed 27 games.
Al Horford was Boston’s big-time offseason pick-up. He missed 13 games.
Go down the line and you’ll see just about every player who has a significant role on this team, missed long stretches of time with injuries and illnesses to the point where continuity wasn’t something they enjoyed – it was something they longed for, all season.
And yet here they are, just one win away from going into the playoffs with home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.
“We just want to control what we can control,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “At the end of the day, that’s all we can worry about.”
However, even Thomas has to step outside of the “stay in the moment” company line and reflect upon what has been an amazing journey that he and his teammates don’t want to see end anytime soon.
“It means a lot. It says a lot about this team. We’ve been through ups and downs, lots of injuries, haven’t been that healthy for the most part," he said. "We just kept going. No matter what the situation, we just kept going and continue to get better each and every day. And put ourselves in a good position at the end of the season.”
Obviously, Cleveland is still the favorite regardless of where they are seeding-wise to emerge as the Eastern Conference champion. And Boston is still among a handful of teams who are still viewed as spectators to what is still seen as the Cavaliers’ coronation-to-be as the team that will represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics won’t look that far down the road, even if they wanted to.
This team is programmed to focus on the task at hand. And when it’s over, then move on to the next job. That’s how they have approached games all season.
And to their credit, for the most part it has worked.
But the playoffs, it’s a completely different animal that the Celtics thus far have not been able to tame.
However, things are different now.
While this is Brad Stevens’ third straight year getting to the playoffs, this will be the first time where he and his players will have the weight of high expectations on their shoulders to advance.
His first year in the postseason, they got in as an eighth seed and were swept by Cleveland in the first round.
Last year, they finished in a four-team tie for third in the East. Once the tie-breakers were sorted out, they wound up as the fifth seed taking on a Hawks team that of the clubs they were tied with, Atlanta was easily the worst draw they could get.
The Hawks won that series in six games.
Even if the Celtics stumble and finish as the No. 2 seed, Boston will still be viewed as a team that should at the very least get out of the first round.
But talking with players, that’s not something they’re thinking about now.
They want to stick to the script which means staying in the moment, basking in the success of Monday’s win over Brooklyn which gave them a division title that nobody seemed all that enamored about except for Thomas who had never won one - or got to the playoffs for that matter until he arrived in Boston.
So he and his teammates are feeling good now.
And tomorrow, all attention will be paid to the Milwaukee Bucks who will be in town for the regular season finale for both teams on Wednesday.
The Celtics' approach to things doesn’t make for sexy headlines or bulletin board material for opponents and the media to run wild with.
But it works for Brad Stevens and his crew.
So why change?