There aren’t many – if any – Celtics fans who walked out of the TD Garden or turned off the TV after last week’s 114-91 loss to the Cavaliers and thought, “I still like our chances for the No. 1 seed!”
But with one game remaining in the regular season Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks, here we are. The Celtics control their own destiny for the No. 1 seed.
Win and they’re No.1. Lose and they’ll need the Cavs to lose to the Raptors Wednesday night.
Boston finds itself in this position due in part to three straight losses by the Cavs after their big win in Boston. Cleveland blew a 26-point fourth-quarter to the Hawks on Sunday. They blew another fourth-quarter lead to the Heat on Monday, too.
And with the reports that LeBron James will sit out against the Raptors, the Cavs are in danger of going into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak – not exactly the momentum any team is hoping for.
The Celtics, meanwhile, can feel a little better about themselves after the blowout loss to the Cavs and the loss in Atlanta the following night.
Boston has since gone on to beat the Hornets and Nets, two teams that admittedly haven’t been very good this season. OK, the Nets have been awful.
But in beating the Nets Monday night, the Celtics won the Atlantic Division for the first time since 2011-12 – not that the division means anything anymore.
A win tonight would clinch them the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, though. The last time they did that was in the 2007-08 championship season, so yes, that would actually mean something.
“It means a lot,” Isaiah Thomas told reporters after Monday’s win. “It says lot about this team. We’ve been through ups and downs, we’ve been through a lot of injuries this year, haven’t been that healthy for the most part but we just kept going. It says a lot about who we are. No matter what the situation was, we just kept going, tried to continue to get better each and every day and that’s what we did. We put ourselves in a good position at the end of the season.”
The No. 1 seed would assure homecourt advantage through the Eastern Conference Finals, though Boston’s first-round opponent is still unclear. It could be the Bulls, Pacers, or Heat.
The C’s go into Wednesday’s regular season finale with a healthy roster, and that’s something they haven’t had a lot of this season.
In fact, Boston’s starting five will play just their 36th game together tonight. They are 25-10 over their first 25 games, good for a .714 winning percentage which is the equivalent to a 59-win regular season.
A healthy starting five means a stronger second unit, led by Marcus Smart who has a knack for making game-changing plays down the stretch of games.
"We feel confident enough in each other," Al Horford told reporters. "It's all about making the most of it. And really not only the starting five, but our second unit, and whichever guy that steps in there is important and they'll bring something to the table. That's our mindset going into the playoffs."