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Udoka says Celtics are concerned with winning, not manipulating playoff matchups

Boston has officially taken over as the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

This Boston Celtics season started off as a nightmare. On January 21, they were 23-24 and seemingly headed for a play-in appearance (at best). Expectations were at an all-time low, and a lot of fans began questioning what the direction of the team should be.

But that nightmare has now turned into a dream. Not just any dream, but a fever dream. Just 66 days later, the Celtics are the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, you read that right. #1.

After their most recent win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jayson Tatum spoke about what the journey has been like. And although the early-season struggles were ugly, he said that they are better because of them.

“It’s been a journey. We’ve had to find our identity. We’ve lost some teammates, got some new guys, and we’ve had to battle. But it’s been fun. Even some of the tougher times, looking back, I think we’ve benefited from it. It made us better along the way.”

The Celtics are 30-9 since the start of the new year and 20-3 since the beginning of February. But they aren’t just winning games, they are picking teams apart.

When asked about what has made this recent run so much fun, Tatum said that it’s the way the team is playing. They are constantly connected on the floor, making the right plays, and competing at all times.

“I mean, winning first of all. And just kind of how we’re winning. Everybody’s playing a part. We’re taking pride in defense and competing on that end of the floor. And then the ball is poppin’. Whether you get double-teamed, pass out, swinging it around, guys, Payton hitting threes and things like that. Everybody just feels a part of something and it seems special.”

Derrick White added to this sentiment, reflecting on the team’s success. He joined the Celtics via trade at the deadline and has fit in seamlessly. And while White did admit that the run has been great, he also noted that they still have a lot of work to do.

“It’s fun. Just going out there, making the right basketball play. Getting stops, getting out, running. It’s been a lot of fun. We know we got a lot of work to do to get to the goal we have, but just got to keep working and keep building each game.”

There’s still a ton of room for movement in the Eastern Conference standings, the Celtics do still have plenty of work to do. However, if they win out, they earn the one seed. But some still question whether or not that’s the best move, noting that it could mean a date with the Brooklyn Nets in Round 1.

According to head coach Ime Udoka, though, that’s not a concern for the Celtics. He acknowledged that some teams like to manipulate the standings, but said that Boston’s only concern is winning basketball games.

“I’m not really worried about that. But teams manipulate where they want to play and we’re not concerned about that. Ours is winning, health, and playing the best basketball at the right time.”

The Celtics play again on Monday night, taking on the Toronto Raptors on night two of a back-to-back at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston.