BOSTON – Brad Stevens’ first season was over and, as expected, the Celtics were among the feeble 14 – teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs.
There were many in Celtics Nation who feared that would the first of a string of non-playoff seasons for Boston, the kind of fate most teams that hit the reset button the way Boston did tend to experience.
And then a year later, the Celtics were in the playoffs.
Last season, there was Boston once again livin’ that playoff life.
The fact that they’ve once again qualified for the playoffs this season isn’t all that surprising.
But them being the team with the best record in the East with just a couple weeks left to play … shocker!
“Didn’t see this coming,” one league executive told CSNNE.com. “There’s enough time for them to slide, but I don’t think it’s happening. They play together, for each other as well as any team in the NBA right now. That’s why they’re going to be a tough out, regardless of whether they are the number one seed or not.”
An NBA scout of a potential first-round opponent had similar comments about the Celtics.
“They’ve been underrated all season in my opinion,” he said. “They don’t have a bunch of guys who can go out and get you 30 points a night like Golden State or Cleveland. But they got one guy like that in Isaiah Thomas, and like eight or nine guys that can get you 15-25 points on any given night. There aren’t a lot of teams that can say that, and actually have the talent to back it up.”
And for them to be where they are in such a relatively short period of time, has made this journey all the more amazing.
Those unsure that this team could ascend to where they are now runs the gamut, from fans, media, even team ownership.
“I felt before the season that maybe we were being overrated,” Wyc Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That we were maybe a Top 10 team in the league and the top few in the East, maybe. But it still felt like a longshot.”
Grousbeck added, “They’ve grown into themselves. They’re playing better than I probably thought.”
That unexpected rise takes on even greater prominence when you see how they stack up to teams that following the 2013-14 season were also lottery teams.
In the three-plus seasons since, Boston and Cleveland are the only teams that have made multiple trips to the playoffs.
They also rank among the winningest teams in that span, with the Celtics having won 163 games and the Cavs 192.
Of course, Cleveland’s significant improvement came about with the return of LeBron James prior to the 2014-15 season.
Boston’s growth has been a bit more organic, cultivated under the watchful eye of Stevens, who has built the team into one that functions at its best when significant contributions come from an assortment of players, as opposed to just a couple of superstars, which has helped them win 50 games for the first time under Stevens.
“When we got here four years ago, we were a long way from that.” Celtics forward/center Kelly Olynyk told CSNNE.com. “It’s hard to win 50 games in this league. The core we have now and the way we play and our system … the character that coach [Stevens] has instilled in us and the way that we play together, it’s huge and shows our potential. Hopefully we can build on it and keep moving forward.”
ON THE RISE: Of the lottery teams in Stevens' first year, the Celtics are the only one in the Eastern Conference to improve their win total every year. Take a look: