Former NBA coaches impressed with Celtics’ competitiveness

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WALTHAM — The question reeked of optimism, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t in the mood.

When asked how his team had “kept their heads above water” through a hectic November, finding itself atop the Atlantic Division standings, Stevens paused and gave a curious look before answering.

“Everybody is really optimistic,” he said after practice Thursday. “This ‘head above water’ thing — we’re 8-12.”

But outside the organization, the Celtics have been viewed as nothing short of a pleasant — if not shocking — surprise as they’ve reached the quarter mark of a rebuilding season. The Celtics get a national television audience on Friday (ESPN) when they host the Nuggets.

“I would have never said, ‘They’ll be 8-12 at this stage.’ I would’ve never said that,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA head coach P.J. Carlesimo. “It’s just asking too much, without Rajon [Rondo] right now.”

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