- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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There's a belief that, if you're going to lose during a transition year, you should lose big. Every defeat is one step closer to a higher draft pick. Boston's recent skid saw it move into a tie with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record in basketball, putting the Celtics in position to elevate their chances of earning a high draft slot in May's lottery.
Boston's win on Friday, coupled with losses for both Orlando and Utah, moved the Celtics (24-55) into a tie for the fourth-worst record in basketball. After entering the day with as much as a 42.6 percent chance at a top 3 pick and 13.7 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick, Boston moved back (or forth?) and currently owns at best at 33.7 percent chance at a top 3 spot and an 10.4 percent chance at the top pick.
If doomsday struck, with three teams vaulting into the top spots, Boston could be in line to land as low as the eighth overall pick (though that's an extremely unlikely scenario). But it's the potential to miss out on a high position that irks some Celtics observers, who think coach Brad Stevens has some 'splainin' to do.
"I have a job, and my job is to get this team to play as hard and as well together as they possibly can," Stevens said when asked what he'd tell those fans. "And to execute and to hopefully be on the right side of the scoreboard at the end of the day. ... All of us are disappointed in our overall record, and all of us are certainly aware of [the lottery] talk, but that’s not our task. Our task is to play hard, coach hard, and do right by the game. And I think that that’s what those guys in the locker room have done pretty consistently. We’ve had a couple of clunkers, but we’ve had a lot of games like this and a lot of them that didn’t go our way, unfortunately."
The way Stevens sees it, it's about time the Celtics pulled out a late win. The Celtics have now played a whopping 48 games that were within five points in the final minutes (that's a whopping 60.8 percent of the team's season schedule). That's tied for the second-highest total of such contests in the league, but Boston's .313 winning percentage (15-33) is second-worst behind only basement-dwelling Milwaukee (.231).
Stevens reveled in the chance for his troops to taste a rare win, the team's first since March 19. He's maintained in recent weeks that he wants his team to finish strong, even at the expense of ping-pong balls, believing the team can build momentum for next season.
"We’ve had a lot of close games not go our way and tonight one goes our way," said Stevens. "Can you turn some of those [close losses] around with extra opportunities and extra experiences like this down the road? I’m of the belief that everything matters, and I’m also of the belief that those guys have invested a lot and they came out and really competed pretty well through the course of the year. They deserve to celebrate in the locker room and be excited in the locker room, especially after the string of losses we had."
Jared Sullinger, who has decried the notion of tanking since Boston's roster overhaul began last summer, said it was a relief to finally get a win.
"It’s a big-time relief," said Sullinger. "I personally want to thank our fans, the Boston Celtics organization fans, because I know this year has been up and down. In the past -- I don’t know how many years, [but since] the 07-08 season, they’re used to seeing playoffs, they’re used to seeing a title-contending team. And this year we’re not in the playoffs and they still come out and they still support us. And I know they’re not used to it, but their sportsmanship, their passion for the Celtics, it doesn’t go unnoticed with us and we appreciate them."
Asked about finally getting back in the win column, Kris Humphries had to ask when the last win actually occurred.
"I think it’s important [to win games even with a losing record]," said Humphries. "You put a lot into it. I think it’s really frustrating to lose at the end of games. We dodged a couple bullets at the end today; sometimes you gotta get lucky. I think, over time, we’ll figure out how to play better at the end of games."