Celtics watch scoreboards amid playoff race

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Even with his team engaged in a tantalizing race for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens swears his focus is on the next game.

His players? Well, there's no hiding it. They're glued to the out-of-town scoreboard.

"Even when we're playing, I'm trying to look at the [out-of-town] scores throughout our game," admitted Isaiah Thomas, who is eager for his first taste of the postseason. "And then, after the games, I'm looking at the standings. It's fun, but it's hectic a little bit."

Indeed, the Celtics have been shuffling anywhere from spots 7-10 in recent weeks as five teams vie for the two final playoff spots in the conference. After Friday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston's postseason potential looked dire while sitting ninth and falling further behind both the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat. But the Celtics won an overtime thriller in Toronto on Saturday and, coupled with recent losses by the Nets and Heat, vaulted back to the eighth seed.

Entering Monday's action, the Celtics owned a one-game lead over both the Heat and Indiana Pacers with five games to play. Boston controls its playoff opportunity with 10 days left in the regular season.

So while scoreboard watching is typically taboo, these Celtics find themselves tuning in to watch their closest rivals.

"I definitely watched the Indiana-Miami game [on Sunday] night; I'm not going to lie to you," Celtics forward Jae Crowder said. "I watch basketball every night. I don't root -- whatever happens, happens. I root for my team. But I watch, I definitely watch."

Thomas admitted he's an NBA junkie and he'd likely be tuning in to NBA League Pass regardless, but with Boston immersed in this playoff push, he said he's "looking at everything."

Jared Sullinger, who missed 24 games with a left foot fracture before making a surprise return to game action Friday, said the downtime allowed him to check out other teams. He was asked Monday how much attention he pays to the standings at the moment.

"I think I could tell you everything about [the playoff race]," Sullinger said. "I was always paying attention. I could tell you every game that went on in the NBA. I was watching every game very closely and trying to find some way to stay with basketball."

Sullinger said that, while each individual player might be aware of Boston's situation, there's little conversation in the locker room. Instead, the team seems to adopt Stevens' approach and focuses on the task at hand.

"[There's] not a lot [of playoff chatter]," Sullinger said. "When we're in the locker room, we don't need to talk about the standings. We understand it's one game at a time, so it's a one-game season. Our next game is Detroit, and that's our main focus."

While Stevens wants his players focused on the next film session or the next practice or the next game, he doesn't mind the excitement about Boston's playoff push. The second-year coach simply wants his team to harness that energy when it's on the court, and not become distracted by what it cannot control.

After all, there's a lot of games left to be played.

"The way I'm looking at it is, today is today," Stevens said. "[Tuesday] we'll have to get a little bit better. Wednesday we'll have to play well. And just kinda go day-by-day and try to maximize each day.

"I think staying in the moment is probably the only way to go about it. I said this earlier: If you look at it in the sum of what we have remaining on our schedule, our schedule is very difficult. We're going to have to approach it one game at a time and try to be our very best on those given nights. Because our very best is what it's going to take. And go from there."

Stevens was asked if the team might start scouting potential playoff opponents with the downtime it has at the start of the week. He offered an emphatic, "No."

"We've played everybody in the league," Stevens said. "We don't even think about [possible playoff matchups], to be honest. We have our hands full with Detroit."

But if there's a break in the action during Wednesday's game against the Pistons, you can be sure his players will be sneaking a glance to see how the Nets are faring against the Hawks.