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Celtics are officially in the play-in tournament

As Brad Stevens would say, “where we want to go is still ahead of us.”

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

After a 102-94 loss to the Cavaliers, the Celtics are officially in the play-in tournament starting next week after falling to .500 on the regular season at 35-35.

It’s certainly been a disappointing stretch of losses for Boston — on the court losing 9 of their last 13 games and off the court with Jaylen Brown out for the remainder of the year with torn wrist ligament and Robert Williams’ availability in limbo with turf toe. However, with a chance to compete in the postseason, the Celtics will do everything to put their best foot forward.

First, Boston has two remaining games on the schedule and still need to fend off Charlotte and Indiana in order to play host when the play-in tournament begins next week. After the game, head coach Brad Stevens said any decisions on playing time and health will be position-based. “I’ve never been through this from the standpoint of a play-in tourney and a quick turnaround,” Stevens said. “So, we have to be mindful with our high-minute players.”

When asked if he’d take a day off with the play-in on the horizon, Jayson Tatum said, “it’s been a long season, but I try and play every game, especially this time. We need every win we can get. You gotta suck it up and play if you can.”

On Wednesday night, the Celtics rested Kemba Walker for his regular load management on back-to-backs and Marcus Smart who is dealing with a calf contusion he suffered in a collision with Duncan Robinson. Boston has the next two days off before finishing the regular season in Minnesota on Saturday and New York on Sunday.

“With the play-in coming, hopefully we can get more guys back in the lineup and use (the last two games) to get us ready for a play-in situation,” Tristan Thompson said.

If you’re not familiar with the new quirk in the postseason format, the play-in tournament adds the 9th and 10th seeds in each conference and creates a four-team tourney with the bottom four teams. Here’s how it plays out:

  • The No. 7 seed will face the No. 8 seed in each conference. The winner of that game becomes the No. 7 seed in the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
  • The No. 9 seed faces the No. 10 seed in each conference. The loser of that game is eliminated from playoff contention and will be in the lottery.
  • The loser of the 7-8 game then plays the winner of the 9-10 game for the No. 8 and final seed in the playoffs.

If the Celtics retain the 7th seed, they’ll host the 8th seed on May 18th or 19th. For what it’s worth, if you’re rooting for the team to tank, the losers of the play-in will enter the NBA lottery at the end of the regular season and have a chance to move up in the NBA Draft.

For many of the vets, tanking is the farthest thing from their minds. Tell Marcus Smart that it might be better to drop a few for the future of the franchise. Tell Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier who had previously been on teams that barely sniffed postseason success to take a night off. The Celtics are a young team, but the learning curve gets steeper heading into the postseason.

“I think the great thing is that this team has a bunch of great human beings and everyone’s character check marks all the boxes of what you want in your team. We are all very close together off the court. We just gotta turn it up a notch. We gotta keep holding each other accountable. We gotta push some buttons and it’s gonna come from within from our team. We can’t expect it to come from anywhere else,” Thompson said.

“Guys gotta understand, it’s pretty simple right now. You got the play-in tournament and however that thing is structured — we gotta win a game and all that other **** they got going on. You have to understand. This is the playoffs. This is for all the marbles. There’s no re-dos. You can’t get the season back. It’s whatever’s in front of us right now. We gotta attack and understand what’s at stake. You have to have that win-or-go-home mentality.”

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