The Celtics have emerged from Group C of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament after a series of very unlikely events Tuesday night.
To start, Boston demolished the Chicago Bulls 124-97 to command a group-best plus-27 point differential. The Celtics left their starters in for longer than usual – clearly trying to boost their lead – despite claims from Boston players and coaches alike claiming they weren’t thinking about running up the score for the tournament.
If the Nets had lost, the Celtics and the Orlando Magic would be tied for first at 3-1. Orlando – having bested Boston in an IST game last week – would have advanced in Boston’s place. The Nets defeated the Magic in their IST matchup, though, and the Celtics beat the Nets in theirs. Hence the three-way tie with point differential as the deciding factor.
The Celtics will go to Indiana for the quarterfinal game. Why? Because the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Miami Heat tonight to improve to 4-0 in the tournament. Accordingly, the Bucks will host the New York Knicks in their quarterfinal matchup.
I know — it’s confusing and it could have gone a million different ways before tonight’s games. For example, if the Nets won by 20 points, they would be advancing over the Celtics.
Here’s what you need to know: Boston will face Indiana on Monday because they won their group. A tough loss against the Magic last week ended up being erased by a dominant victory over the Bulls and a lucky break in Brooklyn.
If the Celtics beat the Pacers, they will travel to Las Vegas to play in the tournament semifinals on Thursday and potentially the final on Saturday.
The Pacers have been a surprisingly impressive team. They are 9-7 on the season and wield one of the best offenses in the league. Boston did beat Indiana 155-104 earlier this season, but the Pacers were missing their breakout star, guard Tyrese Haliburton. Their upcoming matchup should be a good one.
The end of tonight’s game against the Bulls suggested heavily that the Celtics will be competing hard for the NBA Cup. In the fourth quarter, Boston went as far as to intentionally foul Bulls center Andre Drummond, more than once, to get the notoriously poor free-throw shooter to the line.
Boston’s players and coaches might say they don’t care about the IST, but what NBC Sports Boston’s Brian Scalabrine called a “hack-a-Drummond” strategy clearly shows otherwise.
They care. And so should we.