BOSTON (CBS) - The Celtics' unlikely quest to make the postseason has now been fulfilled, as Boston clinched a playoff spot on Monday night without even having to step foot on a court.
The Chicago Bulls blew out the Brooklyn Nets 113-86 at the Barclays Center, giving the Celtics the Nets' loss they needed to secure the postseason berth and seal Boston's surprising return to the postseason after a one-year absence.
While the Celtics can rest easy knowing they have punched their ticket to the postseason, the team's playoff seed in the East is still not finalized. A match-up with the Cleveland Cavaliers remains probable, but isn't guaranteed until the Celtics finish ahead or tied with the Pacers in the standings. Boston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indiana, so the Pacers must get past the Celtics in the standings outright if they want the No. 7 seed.
No matter what happens in the standings, Boston will be a heavy underdog against whatever team they draw in the first round. However, the team's remarkable second-half turnaround, led by head coach Brad Stevens, deserves acclaim. The Celtics are currently riding a four-game winning streak and have won 22 of their last 34 games, despite trading away two of their best players (Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green) in December and January respectively.
New additions like Isaiah Thomas (named Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday), Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko have fueled a starless squad to an impressive resurgence since the start of February. The team deserves credit for not packing it in after trading key pieces for like Green for draft picks and appeared poised to return to the lottery. Stevens and his staff has worked plenty of magic with all of the moving parts, putting this team's rebuild ahead of schedule in spite of a fluid mismatched roster.
Despite Boston's clinching of a spot, Brooklyn's playoff hopes are still not out of reach entirely. They sit 1.5 games behind the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings, a gap that can't be closed in the final two days of the regular season since the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets. The best the Nets can do is finish in the No. 8 seed, if the Pacers lose one of their final two games.
Unlike the Nets, the Celtics can stop scoreboard watching for a bit now and do a little bit of celebrating. A team that was 16-30 on February 2nd is remarkably heading to the postseason. For that, the Celtics can thank Stevens, Thomas and a subpar bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
98.5 The Sports Hub's Adam Jones and Rich Keefe reacted to the news and discussed what awaits in round one of the playoffs.
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