After winning six of their last seven games – and after Chicago beat Brooklyn on Monday – the Boston Celtics are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence.
The Celtics (38-42) are the 7-seed in the East entering play Tuesday.
“This is an extraordinary accomplishment,” Celtics radio voice Sean Grande said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “What’s taking away from it the last couple of days is that you thought this would be a long-shot thing. Maybe on the last night of the season they could win the game in Milwaukee and somehow everything could fall (into place). The idea of them making it two months ago was off the radar. The idea this could be done with three days to spare is ridiculous. I literally started having a conversation on the air (asking), Wow, do the Celtics rest players over the final couple of games to gear up for the playoffs?”
Boston closed the regular season against Toronto (48-32) on Tuesday and at Milwaukee (41-40) on Wednesday.
“There’s certainly some sentiment among Celtics fans – as unrealistic as it is – that you’d rather play Atlanta than Cleveland,” Grande said. “So do you start to mess around with these last two games? It’s not going to happen, but there’s a small chance the Celtics still could drop to 8 and play Atlanta and that seems to be the preferable scenario on a variety of levels. So these conversations, you can’t possibly have fathomed two months ago – and now it’s all in play.”
Regardless of which team the Celtics play, you have to tip your cap to Brad Stevens. Yes, the Celtics have a losing record, and yes, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs in the Western Conference. But come on, look at that roster.
“Brad Stevens won’t be coach of the year,” Grande said, “but if you’re not looking at him after this accomplishment – with 25 different players going through the roster, he’s (used) three or four different variations of this team, significant injuries to key players throughout the year – you take all this big-picture stuff. I think there’s gong to be a documentary, a “30 for 30” one day, saying, What if I told you the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo for Jae Crowder and got substantially better?”
Indeed, with Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, Isaiah Thomas and Jared Sullinger, among others, the Celtics are essentially a “collegiate all-star team.” Grande said Stevens has done an excellent job of accentuating the positives of each player’s game and putting them in a position to succeed.
“Coaches can be stubborn,” Grande said. “It’s part of the nature of the profession, and you believe there’s a way to do it – because you came up believing there’s a way to do it. When you have a team like Brad Stevens had, you have to say, ‘All right, here’s what Evan Turner can do for me. I’m going to create a scenario by which he can do it. Here’s what Jae Crowder could do for me. I’m going to create a scenario for him.’ And then you add the one thing the Celtics were severely lacking was someone who could attack the rim and get to the free-throw line. The Celtics are . . . scoring at a pretty high rate. The pace is very good. Name me somebody on the Celtics that’s an above average shooter. And then you say, Wow, imagine if the Celtics had an above average shooter. They have a collection of good players and Brad Stevens has found a way to somehow make it work.”
Asked how the Celtics match up with Cleveland – their likely first round opponent – Grande said simply, “They don’t.” Still, there’s a lot of excitement about the Celtics were able to accomplish this season with such a young and limited roster.
“If you get young bodies that want to play for each other,” Grande said, “you got a chance to do some pretty cool things.”