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BOSTON – It took Brad Stevens about eight minutes to realize his starters worked well together.
That’s how long they were on the floor to start Boston’s first preseason game back in October, opening the season with a 23-9 run against Philadelphia.
Now the rest of the NBA basketball world is starting to take notice with the Celtics (48-26) holding down the best record in the Eastern Conference with a chance to add to that tonight against the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks (38-36), coming off a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday, have won 12 of their last 15 games.
Boston is well aware that Milwaukee is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For the Celtics, that doesn’t matter.
Regardless of where they are in the Eastern Conference pecking order or who they play, the number one priority for them at this point is to continue playing good basketball.
“Every team in the NBA should want to be the best team in the NBA,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “We’re showing that we can be if we’re playing the right kind of basketball. That’s an accomplishment, to be first in the east. We understand that. But at the same time, we understand we could lose it (tonight against Milwaukee). We have to worry about (tonight’s) game and everything will take care of itself.”
Especially if Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas; Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson – are playing together.
Although they have only played 31 games together this season, they have reeled off an impressive 24-7 record which puts them among the best starting fives in the NBA this season.
“They really have complimented each other well,” Stevens said. “But you could see it. I remember the first exhibition game (against Philadelphia), we could all see it. Before that, the second unit had given them fits a little bit, the first couple of weeks of practice. But that subsided and I thought our guys, that starting unit has been pretty good.”
And it’s not just what they do during games, either.
Setting the tone in all phases of the game, on and off the court, is vital to both the success of the starting unit and the team as a whole.
“That’s part of it; part of us being leaders on the team,” Bradley said. “We have to bring it every single day. Shoot-around, being focused, film sessions. It’s our job to try to help the bench players focus just as much as we are. We’re a team. We all have to hold each other accountable. I feel like we’re doing a great job.”
But ultimately, every team and every unit within that team is judged on how their works contribute to winning.
And when it comes to the Celtics’ starting five, there’s little argument that they get the job done better than most of the NBA’s starting units.
So when asked why they have been so successful this season, Thomas delivered a straight-no-chaser response.
“Because we’re good; like we’re really good,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been so successful. When we are healthy, we know how to play with each other and guys are unselfish and know their roles. We have a really good starting lineup and when healthy, we play at a really high level. We have to continue to do that and end this season on a good note.”