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Even on verge of No. 1 seed, Brad Stevens concedes ‘Cleveland is the team to beat… they deserve that’

04.12.17 at 7:00 pm ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics into the playoff charge. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The standings heading into the playoffs may have the Celtics at the top of the ladder in the Eastern Conference. 

But in his mind, Brad Stevens is keeping the defending champions on a pedestal for a purpose going into the playoffs. 

The Cavaliers lost three straight games after knocking off the Celtics last Wednesday at TD Garden. That opened the door for the Celtics to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over the rest-depleted Bucks Wednesday night. 

But Stevens knows full well that if he can keep that carrot in front of his team, they will have plenty of motivation to prove themselves worthy of the respect the Cavaliers have already earned. 

Asked before Wednesday’s regular season finale how he feels about the Cavaliers still regarded as the team to beat, he grinned quickly before confirming what many experts already feel. 

“No, they deserve that. Cleveland is the team to beat. There’s no question about that. They deserve that,” Stevens said. “They’ve been to back-to-back finals. So, until somebody knocks them off, as a defending champion, I think that’s a fair way to view things.” 

Clearly, the Cavaliers aren’t concerned about finishing second to the Celtics in the East. They are resting LeBron James at home against the Toronto Raptors in their regular season finale, a game that will be played simultaneous with Boston’s game against Milwaukee. 

Stevens also indicated before the game that it’s safe to say that – heading into the postseason – he will likely go with a rotation of nine regular players. But there’s a chance that the likes of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green or even Jordan Mickey could see time if the situation presents itself. 

“Yeah, I’d say that’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens said. “But again, everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen.  As we saw last year, match-ups you didn’t anticipate become match-ups that become important and you need to throw somebody else at so everybody’s got to be ready.”  

The first four off Stevens’ bench would be Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. 

Stevens confirmed that everyone would be “available” for the regular season finale. 

“We’re trying to win a game,” Stevens said of trying to capture win No. 53, a win that would clinch the No. 1 seed. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks
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