BOSTON -- The NBA In-Season tournament got off to a great start for the Boston Celtics, who won their first two games of the inaugural festivities. It felt like a forgone conclusion that they'd advance to the knockout stage and eventually head to Vegas to play for the first-ever NBA Cup.
Then last Friday's game in Orlando happened, and suddenly the Celtics are in danger of having their first In-Season Tournament end in Group Play. Despite their 2-1 record against their fellow Group C teams, the C's 17-point loss to the Magic dropped their point differential to zero for tournament play. Both the Nets and the Magic are also 2-1, but have a better differential than Boston.
So not only do the Celtics need to beat the Bulls (0-3 vs. Group C) in Boston on Tuesday night, but they need to trounce them to get their differential way up. And Boston would still need some outside help to either win their group or advance as a wild card.
To win Group C, the Celtics need to beat the Bulls by at least 23 points. The Bulls are 2-8 in their last 10 games and riding a six-game road losing streak, so there's a good chance the Celtics can pick up a big victory on Tuesday night.
The Magic sit at 3-1 with a plus-22 differential in group play, and they have a win over the Celtics. If the Celtics and the Nets (plus-8) both win Tuesday night, Boston, Brooklyn, and Orlando would all be tied atop the Group C standings. With the Magic owning a win over the Celtics, the Nets with a win over the Magic, and the Celtics with a win over the Nets, it would all come down to differential.
Basically, the Celtics need to crush the Bulls and hope that the Nets eke out a slim win over the Raptors. Otherwise, Boston will be relying on the wild card to advance, and that isn't all that likely.
The Celtics are in competition with four other teams for a wild card spot: The New York Knicks (2-1, plus-18), Miami Heat (2-1, plus-11), the Nets, and the Cavaliers (2-1, plus-6). On Tuesday night, the Knicks host the Charlotte Hornets, the Heat host the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cavaliers host the Atlanta Hawks. Like the Celtics-Bulls, all of those games also tip off at 7:30 p.m.
To land a wild card spot, the Celtics need to beat the Bulls and need victories from the Hornets, Bucks, and Hawks. The C's could also potentially advance with a loss, but they'd need the three aforementioned teams to win in blowout fashion. So that scenario, while possible, remains unlikely.
It pretty much boils down to the Celtics need to absolutely crush the Bulls and hope that the Nets win a close one against the Raptors. Otherwise, hopes of winning the first-ever NBA In Season tournament are over for the C's.
As a silver lining, we may only have to see that gross In-Season Tournament floor at the TD Garden one more time this season.
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