WALTHAM, Mass. – Marcus Smart wrote an article for The Players’ Tribune last week that detailed his thoughts on the Celtics’ collective underdog status.
“On paper,” he wrote, “our team kind of looks like — we joke as a team about this kind of thing all the time — a lineup you’d make if you didn’t know what you were doing in your NBA fantasy draft.
“Most of us aren’t even supposed to be here.”
Smart is correct in that Boston’s roster does not have the conventional star quality that a typical No. 1 seed would have. In fact, the Celtics have the only starting rotation in the NBA that contains at least three second-round draft picks.
For that reason, the Celtics continue to be overlooked. They continue to fly under the radar. And that’s exactly how they like it to be.
“I wake up every day feeling like an underdog, so it’s nothing new to me and it’s nothing new to the group of guys in the locker room,” Jae Crowder, one of those former second-round picks, said following Saturday’s practice session in Waltham. “I’m sure if you looked at us before the season you wouldn’t have said we’d be the 1 seed going into the Playoffs. We’ve been the underdogs our whole careers, so we have that chip on our shoulder still, and that what it takes. We should never get relaxed and we should never get complacent. We should always play with that chip and I think it will help us in the moment.”
The Celtics have the tendency to seek out the underdog types of players who are hungry and looking for a fresh start.
Crowder is a perfect example. He wasn’t given many playing opportunities during his first two-plus seasons in the league, and was considered by many to be a “throw-in” piece in the Rajon Rondo-to-Dallas trade.
The tenacious forward has since turned into one of the most respected two-way players in the league, and last season finished just one vote shy of earning a spot on the All-Defensive team.
Then there’s Isaiah Thomas – the last pick in the 2011 draft, who was tossed around from Sacramento to Phoenix and then finally to Boston, where he has broken out as a superstar. The 5-foot-9 guard led the Eastern Conference in scoring this season, and you can bet a lot of his success has been fueled by the boulder that rests on his shoulder.
The list goes on and on when it comes to Celtics players who have been counted out their whole lives, but another thing they have in common is that they persevere regardless of how many times people have said “no.”
“I think that’s been one of the reasons why we’ve been at the level we’ve been at,” Brad Stevens said Saturday afternoon, one day before taking on the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the first round of the Playoffs. “Not only this year, but being able to come together in the last 15 months before that and play with a chip on their shoulder. I think that if there’s anything used to describe this group of guys, both early on and throughout, it’s that they have a chip on their shoulder. And we’re going to have to play that way once the games start tomorrow.”
The Celtics enter the Playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the East, yet there are still many doubters who believe they aren’t deserving of their ranking.
But those who don’t believe can keep talking the talk, while the Celtics keep walking the walk.
“It’s crazy because no matter how much success you have, people still doubt you,” said Smart, whose team won a conference-best 53 games during the regular season. “But we like that. That’s what allows you to keep going and keeps you striving.”
Boston’s underdog status is what fueled its success throughout the regular season, and that won’t change as it enters the Playoffs.
People may believe that they don’t belong in the position they are in, but at the end of the day, the perceptions of others don’t matter.
“We’re not expecting everybody to be on our side,” said Crowder. “As long as the guys in the locker room believe and our coaching staff believes in us, we’ve been able to get the job done night in and night out.”
So continue to overlook the Celtics, if you wish. They’re used to being the underdogs. And that’s exactly how they like it to be.