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Five fingers to make a fist: how the Celtics are playing team ball to win without a superstar

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Maybe the Celtics are last year's Hawks.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Before the deadline on Thursday, Jae Crowder made some comments about the trade chatter about how the team needed a superstar. He quipped:

...there's a lot of talk about we need a superstar and stuff like that. All five guys on the court are so locked in and so engaged that we're one superstar. We all play together. It's a scary thing when a team don't know who to match up to, whose night it's going to be on the offensive end. And, defensively, we all fight together and play together. It's a scary monster to approach.

Of course, those comments were preceded by Isaiah Thomas representing the Celtics in Toronto as an All-Star, but even he was quick to qualify the individual honor:

But despite all the rah rah team-first mentality the Celtics exude, that hasn't precluded Danny Ainge from trying to bring in a star. Boston was rumored to be the landing spot for Dwight Howard, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Al Horford, and Jahlil Okafor, but none of that materialized. The Celtics will close out the season with virtually the same superstar-less roster it started with in training camp (minus David Lee and potentially a free agent in the coming days to fill that spot).

They're currently the #3 seed in the East with the second-easiest schedule of current playoff teams in the conference. They've done it defense, and although their D has been slipping in each passing month, their offense has picked up the slack.  For all intents and purposes, the advantage of having a superstar is consistently having a mismatch on the offensive end. Whether you're talking about LeBron James' physical dominance or Steph Curry's shot-making abilities, they're players you have to game plan against.

With all due respect to Thomas, the Celtics don't necessarily have that trump card in their deck, but each player brings a little something to the table. In last night's blowout in Denver, five players finished in double figures with nine guys playing over 15 minutes. There were stretches where Jared Sullinger was stroking his mid-range jumper, Thomas was lighting it up in transition, and Marcus Smart was turning defense into offense. Like everybody says, you just don't know who to stop.

There was a ninety-second stretch in the 2nd quarter that perfectly epitomized Celtics' basketball. The trigger is an Evan Turner-Tyler Zeller pick-and-roll. With Turner's ability to hit the mid-range jumper and Zeller's great hands and array of quick shots in the paint, that PnR will get you something. On the first play, Zeller rolls to the rim and draws the attention of D.J. Augustin sucking into the paint. Turner hits Avery Bradley in the corner for a three. On the ensuing play, Gary Harris decides that he doesn't want to over-help with Zeller catching the ball in the key, so Zeller quickly turns the corner for the lefty layup. Sure, none of these guys are superstars, but they know what they're good at, and they don't try to do too much outside of their capabilities.

One of the knocks on ET is that he dribbles too much, but it's not like he's doing it to hotdog and show players up. After hitting Zeller for a floater on a PnR (not GIF'd), Zeller decided to pop on the next screen, and Turner kept his dribble alive and drew Zeller's defender, Nikola Jokic. Turner's just got a great handle. He's a magician with the ball, and he puts Jokic in the spin cycle off the baseline for a reverse. He's not a superstar per se, but with all the action the Celtics run on the offensive end, they're bound to get a mismatch they can exploit and ET looks like Michael Jordan taking it to the rack against Patrick Ewing.

Four straight plays running virtually the same set, and you get a different player scoring each time. It's beautiful basketball. It's not always easy taking what the defense gives you, but with the right combinations of players, Stevens is getting the most out of this overachieving roster.

Tonight, the Celtics are in Minnesota to play a Timberwolves team that is stacked with potential superstars in Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and even dunk champ Zach LaVine. However, the Celtics have won almost twice as many games as the T-wolves, and it really begs the question: does having a superstar really matter when Basketball Voltron is playing with all five guys at their best?