The NBA's Secret Contender

They currently sit as the third seed in the NBA’s much-improved Eastern Conference, with a 34-25 record (which would put them at the West’s 5th spot).

They also boast of quality wins over top tier teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, the Chicago Bulls, the LA Clippers, the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers, and the Atlanta Hawks.

So why isn’t anyone talking about the Boston Celtics?

Here are the four reasons why people aren’t talking about the Celtics but also, why they should be talking about the Celtics

Take a quick look at the Boston Celtics lineup and tell me if you see a bonafide super star. Or even a clear cut top 20 player. The closest you’d get is All-Star Isaiah Thomas (21.6 ppg, 6.8 apg, 2.9 rpg), who started out the season ranked #65 by ESPN. Even then, sexier names like Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, and Jeff Teague (all non-all stars this year) are more likely to be considered “better” players than Thomas.

The rest of the Celtics roster can’t be described as a cast of near All-Stars either, unlike last year’s Hawks lineup. Instead, what they have are a bunch of guys who are able to excel anonymously by being jacks-of-all-trades and masters-of-none. So while none of the Celtics are putting up eye-popping numbers,

In essence, they’re the purer distillation of the team-oriented philosophy that the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors employ. Because they don’t have star-studded combinations like the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldrige-Kawhi Leonard-Tony Parker, or the Warriors’ Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green, the Celtics are able to generate scoring more democratically. That means no one stood out because every one did.

Their “no-superstars” is reflected even on the defensive side of the ball, as the Celtics don’t have a big name shotblocker like Hassan Whiteside, DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard nor do they have lockdown defensive wingmen like Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen or Serge Ibaka.

What they do have is a tenacious “swith-on-all” team defense featuring fleet-footed, high-IQ players with a bulldog’s mentality for dogged pursuit. This has led to players not normally known for defense actually being able to excel on that end, like Kelly Olynyk and Evan Turner, both skill position players who thrive on reversing defensive mismatches to their favor.

Add willing defenders like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, and Marcus Smart to the mix and what you get is a defense that forces about 16.5 turnovers per game, good for fourth-best in the league.

A lot of good teams in the past have been derailed by shenanigans both on and off the court. Some of the most notable examples would be how the Jail Blazers destroyed a Portland team that seemed to be on the cusp of a title, how the Arenas-Crittenton incident dashed the Wizards’ playoff dreams and, more recently, how the Harden-Howard tug-of-war dynamics have turned a team that seemed to be title-ready into one that could miss the playoffs.

The Celtics, on the other hand, seem to have taken on the personality of their amiable coach, Brad Stevens, and have taken the soft-spoken route to success. Don’t take it to mean that they’re soft though. The team plays hardnosed defense and doesn’t back down from anyone. But they are able to go about their business without much grandstanding, hotdogging or crowing that so many other successful teams can’t seem to do without.

Brad Stevens is a genius. He’s self-confident but not cocky, authoritative but not domineering, cerebral but doesn’t come across as irrelevant. More importantly, he has be able to remind people what Celtics basketball was and should be again: selfless, team-oriented, and always more than the sum of its parts.

Stevens has been able to devise a system that maximizes the offensive capabilities of his players (most of whom have very with specific strengths and skill sets) while keeping everyone involved, accountable and protected on defense.

He has done as fine a job as any other veteran coach can do, maybe even better than what some veteran coaches have done.

Yes, they are. Not yet fully back, but the future looks bright for them.

And you can be sure that every other coaching staff in the Eastern Conference has been sitting up and keeping an eye on them. We should too.

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