The Boston Celtics have found themselves in the middle of their worst stretch of basketball recently, dampening expectations as they approach the playoffs. But the good news is that they have already clinched a playoff spot, and their strong play throughout the first half of the season gave them a buffer to be able to overcome such a stretch of poor basketball. But they have to figure things out now if they want to go on a playoff run.
With ten games left in the regular season, the Celtics sport a 49-23 record, which is good for second place in the Eastern Conference currently. After leading the East for much of the season, the C's have fallen 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the top seed, and hold just a 0.5 game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers for the second seed, although they do have the tiebreaker over Philly, which certainly helps.
Boston isn't in an ideal spot considering their title aspirations this season, but they still will enter the playoffs with a favorable matchup on their hands regardless, and they could end up earning a dream playoff scenario if everything goes their way. Let's see what that dream scenario is and see what would need to happen in order for the Celtics to see it come to life.
Celtics dream seeding scenario and playoff matchups
If the season were to end today, the Celtics would find themselves in what would likely amount to their nightmare playoff scenario. As the two seed, the C's would have to play the winner of the 7-8 seed Play-In Tournament game, which would take place between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. Both teams would provide Boston a challenge, but the C's likely don't want to see a Heat team that is very familiar with them in the first-round of the playoffs.
Not to mention, Boston would likely have to get through both the 76ers and Bucks just to make it to the NBA Finals. They would have home court advantage over the Sixers, but both teams have looked better than the Celtics since the All-Star break. So what could be done to avoid this nightmare scenario for Boston?
The biggest thing they could do is win the top seed in the East, which doesn't seem extremely likely anymore. However, it's not completely out of the picture, largely because the Bucks and Celtics still play each other one more time this season. If Boston can win that game, they would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over Milwaukee, meaning if they finished the season with the same record, the Celtics would be the one seed.
The problem is that Milwaukee has a fairly easy schedule the rest of the way out. They only play four teams that have a record over .500 in that stretch, and given how good they have been lately, they will be favored to win each of those games. But Boston only has three such games in their final ten outings, so it's not totally unrealistic, but the Celtics are obviously going to have to beat the Bucks in their upcoming matchup for this to even be a possibility.
If this doesn't happen, the Celtics are obviously going to want to fend off the Sixers for the second seed. Having home-court advantage in a potential second-round matchup between the two squads will be huge, and while Boston has had Philly's number for quite some time, the 76ers cannot be taken lightly.
Regardless of what seed they earn, Boston is going to want to avoid Miami at all costs. The Celtics and Heat embarked on a hard-fought seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and their defense always seems to give Boston fits. Facing them in the first-round would be the worst case scenario for the C's.
The Heat are only a game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the six seed right now, and if they could avoid the Play-In Tournament, that would be a win for Boston if they finish in the second seed. That would mean that the Sixers would end up facing the Heat early, and ensure that the Celtics would face a team they would surely be favored to beat in the first-round. The Nets and Hawks aren't bad, but over a seven-game series, they likely wouldn't provide Boston much of a challenge.
The Celtics haven't put themselves in a great spot, but they can still make a deep playoff run this season, especially if the seeding goes their way. The one seed may not be all that likely anymore, and while that is obviously Boston's dream scenario, there are ways for them to go on a run without getting the top spot. But it's clear they need to figure things out soon, or else their championship hopes will come crashing down before their eyes.