With just seven games remaining in their season, the Boston Celtics waltzed into Capital One Arena on Tuesday night in hopes of inching closer to the one-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, a team they will face off against on Thursday night.
Unfortunately, Boston was looking too far in front of them, and the Kristaps Porzingis-led Washington Wizards made them pay for that mistake. Washington blew the doors off of the Celtics, who just couldn’t seem to find their footing on either side of the floor.
The loss pushed the Celtics 2.5 games back of the Bucks, and with only six games left, their chances of taking back the one seed are slim. But all they can do is move forward.
“Bounce back from this game,” Jayson Tatum said when asked about Boston’s impending tilt against Milwaukee. “I think that’s the most important. We got to respond. And I feel like we will play better. We’ll come out with more pop. We’ll come out with more energy. More focus. Just learning from this game [and] not carrying it on. Move on to the next one.”
Porzingis scored 32 points against the Celtics and got anything he wanted all night. Boston threw Marcus Smart, Al Horford, Grant Williams, and several other defenders his way, but nothing seemed to work.
So now, as they get set for what could have been a standings-shifting matchup on Thursday, they will instead focus on getting back on track.
“Heightened awareness,” Jaylen Brown said of Boston’s game against the Bucks. “Getting ready for that game. [It’s a] potential matchup in the playoffs. So, we just got to come out and play good basketball. Let the chips fall where they may.”
The Celtics met the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, with Boston earning the edge in seven games. It all came down to one final contest at TD Garden, and the Celtics dominated Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co., utilizing the comforts of home.
But with their loss to Washington, it’s looking like a potential Game 7 against Milwaukee in this year’s playoffs would happen at Fiserv Forum.
“In the playoffs, you’re going to have to win games on the road at some point,” said Tatum when asked about the one seed. “Last year, we beat the Bucks in Game 6. Last year, we beat Miami in Game 7 on the road. So, at some point, you’re going to have to go on the road and get a win.”
Boston held the one seed for the majority of the year. Their hot start provided them with a nice cushion, but a late-season slide combined with Milwaukee’s 16-game win streak saw the Bucks catapult into first place.
With both teams getting healthy and prepping for a huge postseason push, a playoff matchup seems all but inevitable. Thursday night was supposed to act as a preview, with each side battling for the top seed, but now, Boston’s chase may be over.
“I don’t think anybody worries about where they place,” said Marcus Smart. “The playoffs is what matters. You still got to go out there and play and win. So, wherever we place, that’s where we’ll be at, and we’ll deal with it.”
Considering the Celtics went 8-4 away from home in the playoffs last year and hold the second-best road record in the NBA this season, losing out on the one seed isn’t the end of the world. But Smart’s comment directly contradicted Malcolm Brogdon’s take on the matter.
After the Celtics’ took down the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday, he stated that the Celtics “want the number-one seed.” A lot can change in a matter of days, and a crushing loss to the now 34-42 Wizards may have been enough to do that.
There’s no changing the past, and with the playoffs less than two weeks away, the Celtics understand that. But after their loss to Washington, they also understand the importance of not getting ahead of themselves.
“For us, we want to be able to go into the playoffs playing the right basketball,” said Smart. “So, we got to finish through these last six games with that mindset. Not thinking anywhere farther than where we need to think - the next game. We got a game against Milwaukee on Thursday. That’s next in front of us, and that’s what we got to prepare for.”