Just like the Eagles won hurt, the diminished Celtics are trying to beat the Sixers | Marcus Hayes

stevenspederson
The similarities between the Celtics, led by Brad Stevens (left), and the Eagles, led by Doug Pederson, are uncanny.

WALTHAM, Mass. — If you paid attention to the Eagles last winter, you probably heard this sort of thing quite a bit:

“There’s a competitiveness, resiliency and a desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself. … We’ve got a strong locker room. They’re in it for each other. They’re in it for the right reasons.

“That gives you a little more of a feel of, ‘OK, the next man can step in and cover when somebody’s down.’ ”

Doug Pederson said things like that over and over last season as his Eagles rolled to a Super Bowl win. Pederson lost seven of his top 26 players for a significant portion of the season, including star quarterback Carson Wentz, but his team kept winning.

That quote didn’t come from Pederson. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said it.

He lost three of his top nine players for the season. He missed a key reserve for six weeks. The Celtics’ current leading scorer has a bad hamstring.

Still, they persist.

Stevens spoke Wednesday as his team prepared to host the Sixers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. On Monday, the Celtics handily won Game 1, despite having lost forward Jaylen Brown to that hamstring injury in Game 7 against the Bucks just two days earlier. Stevens said Brown is doubtful to play Thursday, too.

It’s doubtful his absence will doom the Celtics.

Not the way the Celtics were built. Not the way the Celtics approach games.

The similarities to the Eagles’ situation is uncanny.

The Eagles lost Wentz, a Pro Bowl quarterback and MVP candidate, with three games to play, or slightly more than 18 percent of the season. The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving, an all-star guard and MVP candidate, with 15 games to play, which also is slightly more than 18 percent of the season.

Over the course of the season, the Eagles also lost left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, kicker Caleb Sturgis, linebacker Jordan Hicks, special-teamer Chris Maragos and, for Games 2-9, cornerback Ronald Darby.

They still entered the Super Bowl with a 15-3 record, and left Patriots coach Bill Belichick stunned: “Ton of respect for what they did,” he said the week before the Eagles beat him.

Boston has a similar scenario unfolding just north of Foxboro.

After losing Gordon Hayward in the season opener, the Celtics lost backup center Daniel Theis for the season on March 11 and defensive savant Marcus Smart for 6 weeks on the same day. Now they don’t have Brown, who also missed six games after a hard fall March 8.

Like Howie Roseman did for the Eagles, Danny Ainge fortified his Celtics for this sort of attrition by stocking the roster with talented, unselfish players.

“One of the things Danny has hit a home run with, among the many things, is that in all of our moves it seems like competitiveness, resiliency and a desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself has really weighed heavily,” Stevens said.

Irving’s injury gave Brown and second-year point guard Terry Rozier more chances, and backup point guard Shane Larkin has played well, too. Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum got some of Hayward’s minutes. Smart, Philadelphia native Marcus Morris and Australian center Aron Baynes filled expanded roles.

Stevens made sure they were ready, said Celtics assistant (and devoted Eagles fan) Jerome Allen.

“It starts with Brad,” said Allen, who starred at Episcopal Academy, then played and coached at Penn. “The life that he breathes into every man on the roster. And he’s kept our guys prepared. Coached the same way regardless of who we had. Coached guys to a certain standard. Fostered a fusion of simplicity, patience and accountability. Guys have bought into it.”

That should sound familiar to Eagles fans, too. That’s what Pederson did with left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, running back Corey Clement, cornerback Rasul Douglas, and, of course, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.

“There are a lot of similarities,” said Sixers guard Justin Anderson, who attended Super Bowl LII with center Joel Embiid. “Two great coaches working with what they’ve got.”

Anderson pointed out that the Sixers have a similar culture. They won nine of the 10 games Embiid missed from March 30 through April 16.

As for the comparison with the Eagles, Stevens wasn’t biting. He said, with a smirk:

“I’m a Patriots fan.”