C's Stay Grounded Despite Leading Division

WALTHAM, Mass. – Most teams get excited about being in first place in their division, but the Boston Celtics aren’t like most teams.

The Celtics, who sit atop the Atlantic Division and are fourth in the Eastern Conference, showed little to no satisfaction in their current standing while speaking to the media on Thursday. They know full well that they haven’t accomplished anything yet.

Following Thursday’s practice, one reporter made the this statement to Brad Stevens: “First place 20 games into the season doesn’t get you anything, but it’s still a nice place to be.”

Jared Sullinger takes a jump shot

Jared Sullinger and the Celtics may sit atop the Atlantic Division, but they refuse to let that fact alter their daily approach.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Stevens chuckled at the notion of being happy with the team’s first-place standing. He responded to the report by saying, “I would agree with your first assessment in great length. I would just say that that’s right. It means nothing, because A: We’re pretty close to last place, so it doesn’t mean a lot to me. It really doesn’t.”

The coach continued to relay his thoughts while firing off this cautionary statement: “I don’t think we should gauge ourselves on it, nor should we focus on it because it’s very fleeting if you do that stuff.”

The coach has seemingly relayed that message to his players as well. Reporters did coax Jared Sullinger into acknowledging that his team is atop the division. The big man’s comment, however, didn’t come without a ‘but.’

“It’s nice to be in first place,” he said, “but we can’t get complacent. We’ve got to keep working.”

The C’s are doing their best to taper expectations, but they can’t deny what they’ve accomplished thus far in the season. Yes, they stand at 8-12 on the year, but they just went through one of the toughest months of an NBA season that any team has ever encountered.

Boston opened the season by playing 19 games, including six back-to-backs, in a span of 31 days. That month included games against the top two teams in each conference, as well as nine teams that would be in the playoffs if the postseason began today.

That’s one heck of a month of basketball. To be atop the division after all of that is one heck of an accomplishment that Sullinger was willing to acknowledge.

“It’s pretty impressive to see after all of the games that we had going into November,” Sullinger said of leading the Atlantic Division. “We also understand that it’s the NBA and you’re going to have months like that. We just fought hard and got better every day and everybody’s doing their work.”

When asked about “keeping their heads above water” despite Boston’s difficult November schedule, Stevens pointed to the team’s mentality as its key driving force.

“We stayed pretty even as far as our approach,” Stevens said. “Our guys are coming to work. Their attitudes have been good.”

He later added, “I think the biggest thing is just that mindset, that attitude of being accountable to doing your job and just growing every day and really embracing that and not concerning ourselves with the record or where we stand.”

That’s not an easy thing to do as a professional athlete. The Internet, reporters, televisions and newspapers are always at their side to remind them of their record and current standing. Stevens wants his team to be able to block out that noise, but he also understands that doing so is quite a challenge.

“It’s a hard trait to have, period, for any human being,” Stevens said, “and I don’t know if it’s a special trait yet (of this team). I’ll let you know in a couple months.”

The Celtics will have played nearly 60 percent of their schedule after the next two months. Maybe by that point, if they’re still atop the division, they’ll be excited about their first-place standing.

In the meantime, however, they’ll take no solace in looking down at Philadelphia, Toronto, Brooklyn and New York. They’d much rather devote their attention to working hard and staying focused as this marathon season unfolds.