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Are the Celtics for real? Glad you asked

On Monday, the Celtics defeated Philadelphia for their fifth straight win . . . which raises some interesting questions.
On Monday, the Celtics defeated Philadelphia for their fifth straight win . . . which raises some interesting questions.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics have piqued the city’s curiosity by winning five games in a row and surging into playoff contention in the NBA, all while playing a selfless, endearing brand of team basketball. It is becoming trendy — albeit gradually — to root for this franchise again.

Boston entered Wednesday tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat (the top eight teams make the playoffs), despite an ever-changing roster that has all but required name tags. Four of the 11 players in the current rotation weren’t even on the team on opening night, and the Celtics are operating without a true superstar.


So if you covered your eyes after star point guard Rajon Rondo was traded to Dallas Dec. 18 and the Celtics’ record slipped to 13-26 a month later, we’re here to explain why it is safe to take another peek.

For those who need a quick refresher course, we offer this Q&A:

Q. The Patriots’ Super Bowl win feels like forever ago and Fenway Park is still thawing, so I need someone to cheer for. Am I wasting my time returning to the Green?

A. The Celtics are 17-10 since Jan. 22, and that .630 winning percentage is better than those of the Thunder, Blazers, Clippers, Mavericks, and Bulls during that same stretch. And if nothing else, the Dance Cam at TD Garden is kind of fun.

Q. So they’re dominating the NBA again?

A. Well, not quite. The Celtics have improved and they are playing well. But they are in this position in large part because, with apologies to the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference is still pretty crummy.

In the Western Conference, the Celtics would be 6½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, and there would be no buzz.


Nevertheless, there’s no reason to apologize for being in the East, just as there’s no reason to apologize for having that second glazed doughnut.

Eastern Conference playoff probability
Projections calculated by Basketball-reference.com
W L Best Worst Playoffs
Atlanta Hawks 62.5 19.5 66-16 57-25 100.00%
Cleveland Cavaliers 51.9 30.1 56-26 46-36 100.00%
Toronto Raptors 49.9 32.1 55-27 45-37 100.00%
Chicago Bulls 48.6 33.4 53-29 44-38 100.00%
Washington Wizards 47.3 34.7 53-29 42-40 100.00%
Milwaukee Bucks 41.8 40.2 47-35 36-46 99.00%
Miami Heat 37.5 44.5 43-39 32-50 62.70%
Indiana Pacers 37.4 44.6 43-39 31-51 58.60%
Boston Celtics 36.8 45.2 43-39 31-51 45.40%
Charlotte Hornets 35.9 46.1 44-38 31-51 27.60%
Brooklyn Nets 33.8 48.2 39-43 28-54 6.60%
Detroit Pistons 30.5 51.5 36-46 26-56 0.10%
Orlando Magic 25.6 56.4 30-52 21-61
Philadelphia 76ers 20.1 61.9 24-58 16-66
New York Knicks 18.8 63.2 23-59 14-68
DATA: Basketball-reference.com
Rachel G. Bowers/Globe Staff

Q. But wait, what happened to tanking? I thought the Celtics were getting rid of their good players so they could eventually get a high draft pick that we could heap unfair expectations upon?

A. There was a widely held belief that this season would be mostly about next season. But this overachieving team has flipped that narrative. Over the past eight weeks, the Celtics have, in essence, failed at being bad. And the players have made it abundantly clear that they’re chasing victories, not draft-lottery Ping-Pong balls. You want tanking? Go to the aquarium.

Celtics record by month
October 1 1 0
November 13 3 10
December 15 7 8
January 16 5 11
February 11 7 4
March 11 7 4
Globe Staff

Q. The Celtics are on a nice run, but I just saw that Isaiah Thomas has missed four games in a row because of a bruised back. Maybe they shouldn’t have acquired a fragile 53-year-old point guard.

A. No, that’s Isiah Thomas, Hall of Famer. This is Isaiah Thomas, 26-year-old rising star. The Celtics were playing well before he was acquired in a trade with the Phoenix Suns Feb. 19, but his arrival truly sparked this revival. In addition to his 21.4 points and 5.4 assists per game, he has a don’t-worry-I’ll-handle-this swagger. And yes, he’s out with an injury, but he should return soon. Perhaps as early as Sunday against Detroit.

Q. What’s your solution for fixing Boston traffic?

A. Please rephrase this in the form of a Celtics-related question.


Q. What’s your solution for fixing Boston traffic so people can go see the Celtics play and find out whether Brad Stevens might be the NBA Coach of the Year?

A. The Celtics’ record is not flashy enough for Stevens to have a shot at the award, but if there were a short list, he’d be on it.

The second-year coach’s play-calling abilities have been on full display recently, from diagramming Tyler Zeller’s buzzer-beating layup to beat the Jazz March 4 (after Stevens noticed a defensive switch that left Utah vulnerable), to drawing up Evan Turner’s alley-oop inbounds pass to Marcus Smart in the final moments of a win over the Grizzlies last Wednesday,

Stevens has been a steady hand amid constant change, and the players appreciate his confidence. One of Stevens’s strengths is making every player’s role appear vital.

“I think it all starts from Brad,” guard Avery Bradley said. “Brad is getting us all together, having us believe in one another.”

Q. If the Celtics are so good, how many All-Stars did they have this year? Three? Four?

A. What’s zero plus zero? Oh, zero.

But that’s one of the beauties of this group. Of the 17 teams currently in or tied for a playoff spot, the Celtics, Bucks, and Pacers are the only three that did not have a player in this year’s NBA All-Star Game.

The Celtics have 10 active players averaging 6 points per game or more, and last-minute shots could come from anyone. Opposing coaches have said that makes Boston difficult to prepare for, and the setup keeps the Celtics more engaged.


Since Jan. 22, the Celtics’ assist-to-turnover rate is 1.79-to-1, which trails only the Warriors and Clippers during that time. That might be an indicator of their cohesiveness.

Q. My friend said the Celtics have new contributors named Jonas and Gigi. My friend is also weird, so was he telling me the truth? I’ll hang up and listen.

A. I’m not sure if he was telling the truth about being weird, but yes, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko, both of whom were acquired in a Feb. 19 trade with the Pistons, now have important roles.

Since joining the Celtics, their true shooting percentages — a metric that factors in free throws, 2-point shooting, and 3-point shooting — are .615 and .607, respectively. Over a full season, those marks would rank seventh and eighth in the NBA, just ahead of MVP candidate James Harden.

Jerebko and Datome have combined to average 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game with Boston.

I think we’re out of time here, but hopefully you all have a better idea of how the Celtics reached this point. Now I guess I’ll go work on fixing the city’s traffic problem.

Eastern Conference wins since All-Star break
Globe Staff

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach