Celts Not Overly Interested in Division Title

WALTHAM, Mass. – Here’s how much the Celtics care about winning the Atlantic Division this season: “We don’t even get T-shirts for that.”

Those were the words that came out of Paul Pierce’s mouth Friday morning after Celtics.com asked him about how closely he and his teammates track the Atlantic Division race. The Celtics currently trail the Knicks by just 3.5 games, but you wouldn’t know that after talking to Boston’s players and coaches.

Celtics.com posed a similar question to Doc Rivers as it did to Pierce, while adding in that the C’s have “a legitimate shot” to win the divisional crown. Rivers’ first response was, “Wow, that’s nice,” which was accompanied by a slight hint of sarcasm. He honestly has no grasp on how close Boston is to New York in the standings.

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The Celtics can win a sixth consecutive division title, but they're more interested in adding to their collection of championship banners.
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“I just know the Knicks have been struggling,” Rivers said. “I can’t tell you how far we’re behind them. But I think there’s a team in front of us. Brooklyn, right? So I don’t pay much attention to it.”

That may be surprising to many Celtics fans, but Rivers makes a good case for keeping his eyes off of the standings.

“To me, there’s just no use to do it,” he said. “Why? We have to focus on the next game.”

That game-by-game mindset has been a staple of the Celtics since Rivers joined the organization back in 2004. They don’t chart their long-term goals. Instead, they concentrate their energy on the opponent at hand.

For instance, Rivers and his players will worry about the Charlotte Bobcats, whom the C’s play Saturday night, for all of today and tomorrow. When the final buzzer sounds Saturday night, they’ll shift their focus to the Miami Heat, who will visit TD Garden Monday Night.

There is no reason to question Rivers’ single-game mindset. It has worked flawlessly by leading the Celtics to five consecutive divisional titles. Now a sixth is within grasp as the final month of the season ticks off of the schedule.

While Boston may not be caught up on the possibility of winning the division, achieving that goal wouldn’t exactly be a bad thing.

Each of the NBA’s six divisional winners is guaranteed a top-four seed in its respective conference. Grabbing a top-four seed would provide the Celtics with a very high probability of opening the playoffs in TD Garden, where they have gone 23-9 this season.

Yet even with that fact in mind, Rivers and the Celtics won’t sacrifice their playoff prospects for the sake of ancillary rewards. They put a higher priority on other factors than they do on divisional crowns or home court advantage.

“You want to get healthy and be right and give yourself the best opportunity to win in the playoffs,” said Rivers. “And if not winning the division tells you that you’ll be better in the playoffs (then so be it).”

Asked if he would prefer perfect health or home court advantage in the first round, Rivers responded without hesitation: “Health. It’s not even a question. It’s not even close. Because if you’re not healthy, you’re going to lose home court.”

As Boston’s fans around the world continue to gauge the team’s divisional prospects, the players and coaches are mindful of the big picture. Winning a sixth consecutive Atlantic Division championship is great, but it’s the other type of banner that the Celtics truly seek.

“We would like to win the division,” said Rivers, “but I would rather win a world championship.”

World championship banners, after all, are the only ones that make their way to the rafters in Boston.