Author’s note: To all our compadres at r/BostonCeltics, please read this article in a loud whisper. Shhhhhhhhh
BOSTON -- This moment has been a distant possibility for so long. Coming into the season, second place was a solid and achievable goal.
As the season dragged on, rumblings of contrasting closing schedules and 538 projections painted an increasingly clearer path to first place and the top seed in the East.
That day has finally arrived, as the Boston Celtics tied the Cleveland Cavaliers for first place in the Eastern Conference with their 112-108 win over the Miami Heat Sunday.
The Celtics host the Cavs on Wednesday April, 5 to determine the tie breaker. As of now, the Cavs retain the tie breaker because they currently have fewer losses.
This profound reality did not even change the barometric pressure inside the locker room post-game.
“No one said a word,” coach Brad Stevens muttered into the microphone. “Some of [the players] obviously have already said they watch it pretty closely. But I’ve tried to say, ‘Hey, it’s about playing as well as we can and then that stuff will all sort itself out. But the next game’s the most important thing.’”
While Marcus Smart was unfazed, Jae Crowder is never afraid to be outwardly proud of his accomplishments. “It’s pretty good, we’re where we want to be at the last stretch of the regular season,” he said.
Smart and Crowder are the personification of adrenaline. But while their penchant for tenacity got them in position to make their biggest plays of the night, it was actually their deft touch that provided the end results.
The Celtics reigned in control in the late third quarter and appeared to carry it through into the early fourth. But the Heat came out of an official timeout on an 8-0 run that put the Celtics in for a blood bath finish. Their big break came with a minute left, when Johnson & Johnson were breathing down their neck.
The play started as a split on an Isaiah Thomas back screen to flair a weak-side elbow three to Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart was wrastlin’ Goran Dragic in the middle of the paint, either setting up a post entry option, or just boxing out as early as humanly possible. Either way, he ended up with a crucial rebound and a remarkable assist.
Crowder, who Smart found for a crucial three to regain the lead with four minutes left, found himself in a unique position to close out the game at the line. While this challenge is often reserved for Thomas, Crowder hit both free throws to give the Celtics a two-possession lead that would take them to the (virtually tied) top of the conference.
Now they can flash forward to the easiest closing schedule in the league and their chance in just over a week to solidify a hold of first place in the East.