A funny thing happened on the way to the lottery

Many months ago, the Boston Celtics blew out the Brooklyn Nets on opening night with a starting lineup of Rondo, Bradley, Olynyk, Green and Sullinger. The win was an aberration in what quickly became a frustrating season of futility and disappointment.

On Sunday, Boston began a game with Smart, Bradley, Turner, Bass and Zeller and ended it by embarrassing the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“But wait”, you respond. “Cleveland sat players. That wasn’t the Cavaliers.”

My response? Nor was that the Celtics.

At least not the ones most people think of when they reflect back upon the campaign that is the 2014-15 season.

Through trades and releasings and injuries, the 2014-15 Celtics have been mixed, swapped out and blended. They have flirted with success by playing three quarters of quality basketball per game early on only to eventually disappoint victory-thirsty fans. By halfway through the 2014-15 season they had earned a reputation as lacking identity and being largely underwhelming, their record keeping rock bottom quite visible from their standing and contention only a ridiculous dream away.

New weapon and recent Player of the Week, Isaiah Thomas echoed as much in a piece by Jay King.

"I thought they were one of the worst teams in the NBA," he admitted of the team that traded for him in February.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the lottery.

Of course, Celtics fans have tasted the finest through the years and are not satisfied with the fast food of a simple playoff berth. When all playoff series have completed, Boston fans normally expect theirs to be the last standing.

But fans and players alike are both exulting in their current position - that of certainty of a presence in the playoffs, if for only a few games.

But don’t be too quick to etch their tombstones.

As the article continues:

Earlier in the season, the Celtics hung around the postseason race mostly because of the lifeless Eastern Conference competition. Since Feb. 3, though, they have the second-best record in the East, with more wins than any team in the NBA except the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers. That date might seem random, but it's not. On that day, Stevens took Jae Crowder out of the starting lineup and unleashed a small second unit capable of big runs.

When Thomas arrived at the trade deadline two weeks later, he slid in just right next to the floor spacers and gave Stevens, finally, a reliable fourth-quarter threat. The Celtics are a backwards bunch in that the second unit regularly outperforms the starters, while the go-to guy, all 5-foot-9 of him, comes strutting in off the bench.

Since February 3 the Celtics have gone 22-12.

And let’s be sure of something. That is what you call an adequate sample size. It includes trips out west. It includes many back-to-back contests - the kinds that are the kiss of death for most teams, but the situations that have, in bewildering fashion, been almost guaranteed wins for this team finishing out the season.

It includes significant injuries to principal players, not the least of which being Isaiah Thomas, who watched the team play admirably in stretches while he sat out and got reacclimated after his back and elbow injuries against the Heat.

For the first portion of the season, Boston was winning about one third of its games. But 22-12 reflects a success percentage of 64.7%.

Let that sink in. For the last 43% of the season they have won at a percentage that would net them 53 wins for a season.

For this reason, you have the right to pour yourself into this playoff series, whether it be against Cleveland or Atlanta. If you wish, you can guard your heart and maintain cautious optimism, hoping to not be crushed in spirit when the team is rudely awakened to some supposed lack of ability to compete against a top seed.

But don’t forget who you’re dealing with. Don’t forget the numbers. Don’t forget the improbable victories and the growth of individuals and the unit.

Don’t forget one of the greatest current coaches in the league.

And don’t forget this.

We were never supposed to be here in the first place.

Game on.

AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Chris Young

Follow Chris
@Chris Quimby