NBA playoff picture: Celtics' path to No. 1 seed still alive after Bucks rout
Would No. 1 seed really provide the best playoff path for Celtics? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The path is still open, folks.
The Boston kept their chances of obtaining the Eastern Conference No. 1 seed alive Thursday by obliterating the Milwaukee Bucks, 140-99. The victory gives the Celtics a tiebreaker over Milwaukee after winning the season series 2-1, so if the C's and Bucks have the same record at the end of the season, Boston would earn the higher seed.
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The bad news is the Celtics still trail the Bucks by two games with just five games remaining. They'd need to win out and have Milwaukee go 3-2 or worse down the stretch to land the No. 1 seed.
The more encouraging news? The Bucks are just 7-6 against their remaining five opponents, while Boston is 7-1 against its remaining opponents (not counting the Toronto Raptors twice.)
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If the Celtics beat the Utah Jazz on Friday and Milwaukee falls to Philadelphia on Sunday, the C's only would need to make up one game over the final week of the regular season. It's unlikely, but it's doable.
But here's a question: Do the Celtics actually want the No. 1 seed?
The obvious answer is yes; that would guarantee home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and we saw how playing at TD Garden benefited the C's in their 2022 second-round matchup with Milwaukee. But let's just lay out the current standings and Boston's path to the East Finals from both the No. 1 and No. 2 seed, assuming higher seeds prevail.
Eastern Conference Standings (as of March 31)
Milwaukee Bucks (55-22)
Boston Celtics (53-24) -- 2 games back
Philadelphia 76ers (50-26) -- 4.5 GB
Cleveland Cavaliers (48-29) -- 7.0 GB
New York Knicks (42-33) -- 11.0 GB
Brooklyn Nets (41-35) -- 13.5 GB
Miami Heat (40-37) -- 15.0 GB
Atlanta Hawks (38-38) -- 16.5 GB
Toronto Raptors (38-38) -- 16.5 GB
Chicago Bulls (36-40) -- 18.5 GB
Celtics' playoff path as No. 1 seed
First Round: vs. No. 8 seed Hawks (assuming loss to No. 7 Heat in play-in tournament)
Second Round: vs. No. 4 seed Cavs
Celtics' playoff path as No. 2 seed
First Round: vs. No. 7 seed Heat (assuming win over No. 8 Hawks in play-in tournament)
Second Round: vs. No. 3 seed Sixers
Which path is easier? It's a tough call. Atlanta is by far the more favorable first-round matchup; the Celtics have won four straight against the Hawks (all by double digits) dating to last February and would prefer not to have a 2022 East Finals rematch against the battle-tested Heat in Round 1.
The Sixers also are a better team than the Cavs on paper -- but haven't played like it against Boston. The Celtics are a perfect 3-0 against Philly this season, while they went 1-3 against Cleveland this season with all games decided by fewer than 10 points.
Another factor to consider: If Boston and Milwaukee meet in the East Finals, the Celtics shouldn't exactly fear the deer on the road. The C's have won three of their last four games in Milwaukee going back to last year's playoffs, their lone loss a near-upset earlier this season with a starting lineup featuring Blake Griffin, Mike Muscala and Sam Hauser.
Boston could have had a real chance at the No. 1 seed had it beaten Washington earlier this week. But even if the Celtics can't catch Milwaukee, they'll be decently positioned in the No. 2 seed as well.