If the Celtics can stay reasonably healthy the rest of the way, they will fulfill expectations

A few thoughts on a team that looks so much better when Al Horford is involved.

Celtics center Al Horford (42) goes up for the game-winning shot against the Pistons on Nov. 19, 2016.
Celtics center Al Horford (42) goes up for the game-winning shot against the Pistons on Nov. 19, 2016. –AP Photo/Paul Sancya

COMMENTARY

A few thoughts on the Celtics while wondering whether Danny Ainge ever considered signing Shaun Livingston during his nine-team journey from devastation with the Clippers to redemption with the Warriors …

Two of their four best players return to the lineup, and the Celtics suddenly look like the super-competitive contender we expected all along.

Funny how that works, huh?

Since Al Horford and Jae Crowder returned to the Celtics’ lineup — the former missed nine games after suffering a concussion, the latter eight games after rolling an ankle — they’ve won both of their games, albeit with perhaps more drama and suspense than necessary.

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Horford scored the winning basket on a putback in a 94-92 victory over the Pistons Saturday, a fairly impressive road win considering the Celtics had been blown off the court by the Warriors at home the night before.

Monday night, they rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to defeat Tom Thibodeau’s frisky but not quite ready for prime-time Timberwolves, a win that improved their record to 8-6.

Presuming Crowder’s ankle is OK — he suffered pain in the second half against the T-Wolves and may not play against the Nets Wednesday — I’d expect the Celtics to get rolling soon.

Their 16 games over the next month include two with the Spurs and fairly compelling single matchups with the Rockets, Grizzlies (who are 9-5), and Raptors. But they also have two with the 4-9 Heat, plus the Sixers, Nets and other mediocrities.

And it’s not as if the Celtics are far off last season’s final record of 48-34 as it is. They’re on a 47-win pace right now, even with the key injuries (Kelly Olynyk hasn’t given them anything yet) and the necessary acclimation of Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown into the rotation.

They’re still winning 50-plus, barring catastrophe. So I hope you got all of your worrying out of the way already.

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Isaiah Thomas is off to an incredible start offensively, putting together a stat line — 26.4 points and 6.3 assists per game — that Tiny Archibald would have been proud to call his own.

Yeah, Thomas is shooting just 43.7 percent from the field, but that’s mostly due to a slump from 3-point range (31.5 percent). He’ll come out of that (he’s a 36 percent shooter from 3 for his career), and in the meantime his 50 percent shooting from 2 more than makes up for it.

The only small player I can recall who mastered the art of initiating contact and finishing the shot against taller players with such efficiency is Allen Iverson.

I admit to some annoyance that Thomas called out not only his team but the coaching staff after the Golden State loss, saying they quit. They didn’t quit; they got blown off the court, shorthanded, by what is shaping up to be one of the best offensive teams we will ever see. The Warriors’ fourth-best player, Draymond Green, would arguably be the Celtics’ best.

I suspected his comments stemmed from a selfish place — Thomas’s streak of 20-point games ended, in part because he played just 27 minutes — but I can’t really hold that against him all these days later.

He was frustrated, and he’s habitually candid, and besides, you don’t go from being the 60th pick in the draft — taken 50 spots after Jimmer Fredette by the same team — to someone with his own “Pick Me Last” ad campaign without extreme self-confidence. He’s going to speak out from time from time to time, and the fearlessness to do so is part of what makes him great.

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If you don’t mind, I’m going to continue to believe that there was a small unpopped kernel of truth somewhere in that Klay Thompson-to-the-Celtics trade rumor that was such fun to kick around last week. I’m not writing it off as total nonsense for two reasons,

First, the more I think about it, the more I love the idea of Thompson as a Celtic. He’s the most fundamentally sound, balanced perimeter shooter I’ve ever seen — every make goes in the same way — and the only reason he isn’t regarded as a superstar now is because he willingly cedes the spotlight to a couple of teammates whose stars shine brighter.

So that’s one reason: He’d be awesome here and I want it to happen. Good reason, right? The more practical reason: I continue to believe there was some substance to it. Not only because of Brian Scalabrine’s obvious links to the Celtics and Warriors, but because the rumor he mentioned on his SiriusXM radio show — Thompson to the Celtics, Crowder, Avery Bradley, and a Brooklyn pick to the Warriors — was different than the rumor that was reported at the dubious online source in which he claims to have seen it. (That rumor included Amir Johnson rather than Crowder.)

It will never happen — the Warriors have won eight and a row, and Thompson is on fire now after a slow start. But I do believe the idea was broached in much more viable places than on some obscure website, and that there were elements of truth in what is portrayed as a piece of fiction.

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Kevin Durant didn’t seem especially bothered Friday when Celtics fans — feeling irrationally jilted given that he chose to play with the most talented and aesthetically pleasing basketball team since the Lakers/Celtics ‘80s heyday — booed him every time he touched the ball. But if he really wanted to get the last word against Celtics fans — as if his viciously efficient 23-point, 10-rebound, 7-assist performance wasn’t hurtful enough — he’d have found a way to get his hands on one of those Kevin Durant Is A [Mean Word Not Suitable For Print] t-shirts for sale outside the Garden and worn it during warm-ups. That’s the kind of expert-level trolling even Ainge could appreciate.

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Just to circle back to the Warriors game one last time — I guess I still have that one on my mind, two wins later — I have to say, after watching that debacle in person Friday night, I have no idea how the Celtics beat them on the road last year without Crowder.

I’d say I’d watch a 30 for 30 on this subject, but saying you’d watch a 30 for 30 on any random appealing sports personality or event has become a cliché. I’d definitely watch one, though. You know, if they made one.

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