BOSTON — With their win over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics clinched the two-seed in the Eastern Conference. In fact, all five of the top seeds in the East have been solidified.
“You can’t take stuff like that for granted,” Jaylen Brown said. “To be on a 50-plus-win team is an honor. It takes a lot of hard work that goes into that. It doesn’t come around as often as you probably think it does. And to be able to be a part of it is a blessing for sure.”
Boston’s win over the Raptors marked their 55th of the season. It’s the first time they’ve hit the 55-win mark since the 2017-18. And with two games left in the regular season, they have a chance to make even more history.
The last time the Celtics won 56 games in a season was in 2010-11 when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen were still wreaking havoc at TD Garden. And if the Celtics win out, it will solidify their best regular season since 2008-09 when they had 62 wins.
“It’s good. I’m happy for the guys,” Joe Mazzulla said of the Celtics securing the two-seed. “Seed doesn’t matter as much as the mindset that we’ve had. The goal was to be a well-balanced team throughout the regular season. [We are] finishing in the top of both offense and defense. I think we’re developing the proper mindset as we head into the rest of the season and the playoffs.”
In his first season as head coach, Mazzulla helped Boston eclipse their win total from last season. But while locking up the season seed in the East is an accomplishment within itself, Boston’s goals stretch far beyond that.
The Celtics knocked on the doorstep of Banne 18 last year, and they’re undoubtedly looking to rectify their Finals loss this time around. So, heading into the playoffs, they don’t plan on slowing down.
“It’s about finishing the season strong with good habits,” said Malcolm Brogdon. “We don’t want to lose these two games. We want to go in with momentum. I think that’s one of the most important things for any of the high-seeded teams is to go with momentum because we’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
On Tuesday night, the Celtics were without three starters in Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart. Despite that, they were able to squeak out a victory thanks to big-time performances from Brown, Brogdon, and Derrick White.
Brogdon stressed the importance of health heading into the postseason, calling it the “number one” priority, but that’s not always a controllable factor. Their win over Toronto displayed Boston’s ability to win under varying conditions - a skill that will be crucial come playoff time.
“You’ve got to be malleable,” said Mazzulla. “Matchups, doing different things. Our guys are very open-minded. Very coachable. They’re very detail-oriented. So, you just have to be open-minded to all those things. By any means necessary, find a way to win.”
Toronto threw plenty of punches against the Celtics on Tuesday night. They’re still playing for their play-in positioning, and a couple of wins vs. a couple of losses could be the difference between having to play one or two games to make the playoffs.
But even when Toronto made a fourth-quarter run, even when they tied the game mid-way through the final period, and even when Boston’s offense lost its legs after playing in Philadelphia last night, the Celtics found a way to persevere.
A couple of late-season falters kept them from vaulting the Milwaukee Bucks for number one, but that’s behind them now. And the playoffs are in front of them.
“To be a part of the winning organization, to add to it, and to come out each and every night and play with purpose,” Brown said. “So absolutely, it’s great. We’re getting ready to head into the postseason with a better feeling.”