We’ve been talking a lot about how crucial a stretch this is for Boston in terms of playoff seeding. After spending a lot of time in the third seed, their grip on home court in the first round has suddenly gotten tenuous after a 3-game losing streak and a Jae Crowder high ankle sprain.
So let’s take a look at this situation and how things shape up.
The Celtics dropped from third to fifth, technically, because Atlanta currently holds the tie-breaker against Boston. The Celtics are a half game out of 6th, 2.5 out of 7th, and 5 games out of 8th. With 14 games left, the Celtics would need the most epic of collapses to miss the playoffs.
Boston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Charlotte and Miami.
Boston is down 2-1 in the season series with Atlanta with 1 game to play. A Boston loss gives Atlanta the tiebreaker, but a win would force the next tiebreaker. If Atlanta wins its division and is tied with Boston, they’d get the tiebreaker. If Atlanta is tied with Boston and does not win the division, each team’s division record would be the next tiebreaker. Atlanta is currently 7-6 in their division, Boston is 8-5. After that, it’d conference records… Boston is 26-18, Atlanta is 23-18.
Indiana holds the tiebreaker over Boston
* = back to back
Boston: @TOR, @PHI, ORL*, TOR, @PHX, @LAC, @POR, @GS*, @LAL, NO, MIL @ATL*, CHA, MIA
Miami: CHA, CLE, @NO, @SAS*, ORL, BK, @LAL, @SAC, @POR*, DET, CHI, @ORL*, ORL, @DET, @BOS*
Atlanta: DEN, HOU, WAS, @WAS, MIL, @DET*, @CHI, @TOR, CLE, PHX, TOR, BOS, @CLE, @WAS
Charlotte: @MIA, DEN, @SA, BK*, @DET, @MIL*, @PHI, PHI, @CLE, @DET*, @NYK, @BK, @WAS, @BOS*, ORL
Indiana: TOR, OKC, PHI, NO, @BK, HOU*, CHI, ORL, @PHI, @NYK*, CLE, @TOR, BK, NYK @MIL
Boston’s got a tough west coast trip still left on its schedule. The two Toronto games won’t be fun and that Clippers, Blazers, Warriors gauntlet does not look good at all. Both the Clips and Blazers have revenge on their minds and they’re at home. That Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami close to the season could be a very crucial stretch for Boston seeding-wise.
Miami’s road isn’t great either. The last game of the season is on a back-to-back and Detroit will be tough twice in a short amount of time. Games against the Hornets, Cavs, Spurs, Blazers, and Bulls will be tough.
Atlanta probably has the most favorable remaining schedule. They only have one back-to-back left, and they only have four games against teams that are currently above them in the standings.
Charlotte is playing well, but I can see them scuffling a little bit here. I don’t know that they’ll be that much better than Boston along this stretch, but considering the Celtics schedule, they still have a shot here of winning a couple more than Boston does.
Indy’s got an outside chance too. the 76’ers, Pelicans, Nets stretch is a chance to make up ground. They also have Orlando, Philly again, New York twice, and Brooklyn in the mix. They’re probably right behind Atlanta in terms of ease of schedule the rest of the way.
So my ranking of ease of schedule moving forward is:
The Celtics could come out of that Warriors game needing to go on a six-game winning streak. Again, Hawks, Hornets, Heat to close the season is gigantic.
I still think Boston will finish above the Hornets, and I’m not 100% confident in the Pacers pulling off all the “should win” games. Even if they do leapfrog Boston, I think the Celtics could ultimately settle at the 6th seed. So ultimately, the Celtics could still be looking at being in the 3/6 matchup, but just as the road team.
Of course, this is, to me, the realistic worst case scenario. The Crowder injury hurts the Celtics’ chances pretty badly. However, there is always the possibility that the Celtics rally in his absence once Kelly Olynyk gets back up to speed. If they beat Philly, Orlando, and Phoenix, and win one of the Toronto games, they could still hit a potential 3-game skid without much damage done to the seeding. If they get Crowder back in time for those final 6 games, then beat the Lakers and Pelicans, they’re all set up to put the teams they’re competing against away in head-to-head matchups.
Can the Celtics hold on to the 3rd or 4th seed? The can. It’ll take their best effort yet, but they CAN do it. They’ll have to fend off hard charges from a few teams creeping up on them, but the tiebreakers give them a tiny bit more breathing room. Atlanta is going to be tough to hold off, for sure. Another loss to the Hawks will probably give Atlanta the third seed, but a win will make things a lot more interesting.
No matter what, I still like Boston’s chances in a first round series against anyone besides Cleveland and Toronto. Indy would also be a tough matchup, but I’m not seeing that matchup materialize at the moment.
Regardless, the next few weeks are going to be interesting, and each successive game is going to be more and more important.