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The Boston Celtics are a surprise playoff team

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Brad Stevens needs more props in the Coach of the Year race.

He doesn’t deserve to win it. No one leading a sub-.500 team should be able to claim that award, and likely never will. At 31-39 at time of publication, Stevens' Boston Celtics are likely to end up on the wrong side of that line.

But Boston would also be set to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs, and face the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, if the postseason started today. That’s pretty surprising.

General manager Danny Ainge might not be exactly thrilled about how many wins Stevens has been able to manufacture out of this roster. Ainge, since ending the Big Three era, signed Stevens to a five-year deal that made it clear that a long rebuilding stretch was expected. Ainge has shuffled the Celtics’ deck over and over again since, collecting draft picks and middling talent in the name of tomorrow. At a glance, Ainge could be seen as trying to tank.

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The Celtics, as constituted, don’t have any players even particularly close to All-Star status. Their leading scorer in recent games has been Evan Turner — a forward who was considered an empty stats guy with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a cancer with the Indiana Pacers.

In Boston, though, he’s been productive and efficient. He tallied a triple-double in a recent win over the Brooklyn Nets. His skills are maximized amidst a nucleus of role players whose talents have been organized into something greater than their sum. Jae Crowder, Luigi Datome and Jonas Jerebko were all afterthoughts in midseason trades, but in Celtics green they’re all quite useful.

Add in the emergence of young center Tyler Zeller, the exciting arrival of rookie guard Marcus Smart and the recently acquired scoring machine Isaiah Thomas (who may have finally found an NBA home) and this motley Celtics team looks like one of the year’s most endearing, surprising stories.

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

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