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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Celtics Playoff Outlook Appears to be Bright

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No one gets a trophy for being the number one seed in the playoffs. It’s also far from a guarantee to have a shot at the championship as a number one seed in today’s NBA. The Celtics surely know this, as star point-guard Isaiah Thomas explained in his last press briefer that the team has not even mentioned being at the top of the East amongst themselves. He stated, “It’s bigger than that.”

Yet holding a top seed in the East isn’t entirely meaningless. Besides having home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Celtics will also be able to avoid a tough first round series. Last year, the Celtics finished with the fifth seed, and had to face the fourth seeded Atlanta Hawks, who were able to finish off the Celtics in six games. The Celtics desperately need to avoid finishing out of the top three, or else they could find themselves in a tough match-up in the first round again, potentially against the Hawks, who are hovering around the fifth seed.

A rematch between the two teams would be an interesting one, with Al Horford facing off against his old team. The Hawks replaced Horford this past offseason with Dwight Howard, who has been quietly putting together a respectable season.

I don’t believe the Celtics would fall to the Hawks like they did last year, considering the team’s new roster, but the Hawks would not be an easy out, and are not afraid of coming into TD Garden. They finished off game six last year in Boston, and have beat the Celtics at home this season as well. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the team did not have Avery Bradley in last season’s playoff series, and this season, he was just coming back from an Achilles injury during the past meeting with the Hawks. With a healthy Bradley locking down opposing Hawks guards, it’s easy to see the Celtics winning in six against the Hawks.

If the Celtics do manage to stay in the top two of the East, they will go up against the team that ends up with the eighth or seventh seed. Currently, the last four teams that are in the playoff picture are almost identical record-wise, so it’s still unclear who the Celtics will see in the first round. But it’s safe to say the Celtics would be the favorites against any of the four.

The Indiana Pacers are heavily relying on Paul George down the stretch, and it’s becoming apparent that he can’t bring the team to wins on his own. Even after George put up 37 points, the Pacers still lost in a heartbreaking fashion to the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team that is well out of the playoff hunt. The Celtics also match up very well against the Pacers, and are close to sweeping them in their regular season match-ups. The Pacers are steadily losing momentum going into the playoffs, and would give the Celtics the best chance of sweeping a team in the first round.

The complete opposite of the Pacers in terms of momentum appears to be the Miami Heat. Even after a disastrous start to the season, the Heat have overcome injury woes, as Erik Spoelstra catapults himself into the coach of the year discussion. Spoelstra has brilliantly implemented Goran Dragic into his system, and allowed the shifty play maker to get to the basket and the free throw line. Hassan Whiteside also poses a problem for the Celtics, who already struggle with rebounding. The Heat are still missing Dion Waiters though, and are struggling to close out games in the fourth quarter. Though the Heat could be an annoyance to the Celtics, they are not a legitimate threat.

The Bucks are the most compelling match-up for the first round. Though they hold the sixth seed at the moment, they have to see the Celtics twice before the season’s end, and could slip into the seventh or eighth spot within a handful of games. The Bucks are pretty young and versatile, and have shown they can hang with the best in the East. Tony Snell has played a pivotal role since being traded to the Bucks from the Bulls, and seems to be learning all he can from future Hall of Famer Head Coach Jason Kidd.

Though the Bucks have depth and consistency, they still seem a couple years away from being a significant threat. With the absence of Jabari Parker, the Bucks have to solely rely on the promising Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo has shown to be a triple-double machine, and forces other teams to pay attention to him. The Bucks can match the Celtics offensively, but lack the discipline to stick to their defensive assignments. In their last meeting with the Celtics, Thomas was able to score 37 points, and even Kelly Olynyk scored 17. The Bucks can outscore other teams in the weak East, but don’t have the ability to score against the Celtics or defend against them efficiently.

The teams fighting to stay in the playoffs in the East haven’t shown they possess the depth or consistency to beat the Celtics in a seven-game series. Though they look dangerous at times, these teams wouldn’t even make the playoffs if they played within the Western Conference. If the Celtics keep winning and stay within the top three of the East, they are guaranteed to make it to the second round.
The road beyond that is much harder, but it seems like Coach Brad Stevens will at least get his first playoff series win this year.