So the Celtics are coming off a couple bad losses in games they probably should have won. What do we make of it? I don't know. Before that, the team had won 9 of its last 10 games with that one less being competitive game against the Warriors, where are starters arguably outplayed the the starter for Warriors. Needless to say, I was getting to the point where I felt this talented team had finally turned the corner like I knew they eventually would.
Then these two losses happened. Even after that Lakers game, I didn't feel like 8 and 2 for the last 10 and one bad loss by one point was anything less than a minor bump in the road. The Clippers loss was worse. I don't want to overreact. Lowkey, it might not be the worst thing to lose to the Clippers because draft stock. And to a lesser degree, even the Lakers game could qualify for that because of the Kings. But really, we should have won both those games. And with the Morris comments and everything else, I think it is more than fair to say the team still isn't right. I'm not here to overreact to two regular season games. Yes, the Celtics have had more than two frustratingly bad losses this season. Those didn't preclude me from feeling better about the team after their latest good stretch. However, this could also be taken as a sort of microcosm for the regular season as a whole. The Celtics started the season at a promising 6-2 only to level off to .500. They go on promising stretches only to have more frustratingly bad losses. While no team is as perfect as our idealized exspectations and every team including the Warriors will have some bad losses throughout the season, this points to our inconsistencies. It feels like a one step forward two step back type deal.
Where do we go from here?
The trade deadline is past so focusing on additions won't work. I'm not here to focus on blaming one person or another or to pretend I have the magic solution to our inconsistencies. Do that on your own time.
The way I see it, the team is still talented enough to figure it out. Whether or not you think they will at this point is up to your opinion. At their best, they are still good enough to beat all the top teams in the East and compete with the Warriors. We know this. The regular season has been disappointing. But it hasn't been an outright disaster yet. We are still a playoff team. So we still have a chance for said playoffs.
Perhaps instead of focusing on the regular season, which we will likely never be satisfied with, we should focus on the playoffs?
Earlier in the year, there were 5 teams in the East that were clearly head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference. We'll call them the big 5...
We know those are the best 5 teams when fully healthy. In spite of our struggles this season, the Celtics are still clearly good enough to be considered a part of this.
Two things have potentially changed this:
- The injury to Oladipo
- The emergence of the Nets
The unfortunate injury to Oladipo greatly weakens the Pacers. Indiana is still a good team are holding onto the third seed for now. But they don't seem that likely to keep it. I think this drops the Pacers as not quite as good as the rest of the big 5 teams, at least for this season.
The Nets have also risen as a good team. They are not on the level of the healthy big 5. But they are on the rise and could potentially sneak their way to an upset victory if teams aren't careful.
I believe it is fair to say that the top 4 teams are now:
It seems safe to say that everyone else seems less than relevant. Whoever makes the 7th and 8th seeds won't be as much of a threat as the other 6 teams and will likely just get stomped by the top 2 teams in the first round.
GOALS FOR PLAYOFF SEEDING:
I think it is safe to say that a top 2 seed is pretty unlikely at this point. It kind of stinks because it would be nice to avoid the Bucks and/or Raptors as long as possible. unfortunately, that train has probably left the station.
Outside the Raptors and Bucks, which I won't get into here, I actually feel pretty good about our other matchups. Outside of those two, the only other big 5 team that is healthy is the 76ers and we match up well against them. Or at least we have in the past. Everyone else feels beatable to me. The Pacers are an upset threat. But without Oladipo, they probably aren't as good as us. They arguably weren't even with him. The Nets are a legitimate upset threat, but again, they aren't at our level. And everyone below the Nets likely isn't a high enough threat level to worry about.
The way I see it, our best shot at making a playoff run is to get home court over the 76ers. Ideally, we would also avoid a first round matchup with them so that A. we can have an easier first round matchup and B. whoever we DON'T face in the second round (likely Bucks or Raptors and probably Bucks) can be worn down by the 76ers.
In any hypothetical playoff scenario, I see the Bucks and Raptors respectively beating the 7th and 8th seeds. In that event, whoever is the higher seed of the two will face the lowest remaining seed. This would mean that if the Celtics and 76ers make it past the first round, they respectively match up with the Bucks or Raptors instead of each other. This would be good for us because Philly is probably the team with the best chance (outside of ourselves) of knocking off the Raptors or Bucks. At the very least, the 76ers should make it a tough series. If we are a higher seed in a scenario where both Philly and Boston pull upsets, we will then have home court. If not, then at least we can count on the top 2 team we don't play to be at least worn down a bit.
Failing avoiding Philly in the first round, it would still probably be very important to get home court given how good a home team they are versus the road. I suppose the same could be said about us, though. This means that we should aim for the third seed. If we don't get it, we should at least aim to get a 4th seed and be higher seeded than Philly. Speaking of the 76ers, this brings me to my main point.
The next game is against Philly. I don't think I need to emphasize the importance given how close we are in the standings. The good news is that we are currently 2-0 against the 76ers and have matched up pretty well with them in the past. The bad news is that we are coming off a couple bad losses, we have key players out with injury, the 76ers are at home, and Philly just traded for Tobias Harris which may or may not make them significantly better our past matchup advantage with them.
There are a lot of unknowns with this game. We matched up well with Philly in the past. But with all these factors, it could change things. We need a win not only to make up ground for seeding but to wrap up the season series. Again, we are 2-0 against Philly now. But if we fall to only 2-1, the 76ers could conceivably win the next game against us and tie the season series. Who knows if the Celtics will be vulnerable for that 4th game or if Harris will give Philly the edge they need. But it should be noted that both the final two games we have against the 76ers are in Philly, which isn't ideal
I think it's safe to say that we cannot afford to lose our advantage over them. A win here would tie up a lot of loose ends. It would prove we can still match up with Philly even after the Harris trade, it would seal the season series for us, and it would go a long way towards the team turning a corner again. But if we lose? That opens a whole pandora's box of bad questions right as the team is struggling again. And as far as seeding goes, we would be hard pressed to make up the ground we need to stay ahead of what appears to be a surging 76es team.
This game is extremely important for playoff implications.