BOSTON (CBS) -- Wednesday night's win over the Chicago Bulls gave the Celtics the inside track to secure the two-seed in the Eastern Conference. A win over the Bucks on Thursday night would essentially seal the deal for Boston.
That is, if the Celtics even want the No. 2 seed.
In earning their 50th win of the season Wednesday, the Celtics took a half-game lead over the Bucks for second place in the East. The 76ers currently sit in fourth with an identical 49-30 record as the Bucks, who own the tiebreaker over Philly. Boston has two games remaining -- Thursday in Milwaukee and Sunday in Memphis -- while the Bucks (vs. Celtics, at Detroit, at Cleveland) and 76ers (at Toronto, vs. Indiana, vs. Detroit) each have three.
Falling to the Bucks on Thursday would drop Boston down in the standings, and give the Bucks the tiebreaker over the Celtics. A Boston loss and a Philly win in Toronto would drop the Celtics to fourth, but Boston would just need to win Sunday in Memphis and have the 76ers lose one of their two remaining games to jump into the three-seed. A lot still remains up in the air with just a few days left in the regular season.
But it all goes back to whether or not teams want the two-seed. While finishing second in the East would bring home-court advantage in the second round, there's also a good chance it will bring a first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets haven't been all that great this season, they rarely play good defense, and there is still a chance they fall to the eight-seed via the play in tournament -- or miss the real playoffs altogether. But a series against Kevin Durant and sidekick Kyrie Irving still isn't the most appealing first-round matchup for any team, because Kevin Durant is pretty damn good.
We'll get a good idea whether Boston or Milwaukee wants the two-seed when they send out their starting lineups Thursday night. The Celtics have a somewhat built-in excuse to punt the game, given it's the second leg of a back-to-back. Boston's regulars all played big minutes in Chicago on Wednesday night, with Jaylen Brown playing 35 minutes and Jayson Tatum and Al Horford each logging 30 minutes. Horford will almost certainly get the night off, leaving Boston without one of its best defenders against Giannis Antetokounmpo. Tatum and Brown will likely see some action, but probably not the big workload they got in Wednesday night's blowout.
Falling into the three-seed wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to Boston. The Bulls currently sit in the six-seed, and we just saw what the Celtics can do to that team. Falling to fourth would likely set up a first-round meeting with the Toronto Raptors, a team that is rolling right now. And no one needs to be reminded about the vaccination kerfuffle the Celtics may encounter should they need to head cross the border.
Granted, Chicago or Toronto are much more appealing first-round foes than Brooklyn, especially with Robert Williams likely missing the series. But finishing third would take away home court for the second round, unless the Nets upset the Bucks, and finishing fourth would likely set up a second-round matchup with the Heat. This could all go mean nothing too, should Brooklyn end up in the eight-seed after the play in tournament. There's even a scenario where Philadelphia finishes second and the Celtics third, but no one needs that big of a popsicle headache this early in the morning. (A Philadelphia-Brooklyn first-round matchup would be delicious though.)
Really, the Celtics shouldn't fear anyone this postseason. They're going to have to beat good teams to get to where they ultimately want to go. A matchup against the Nets without Williams isn't ideal, but it's still a series the Celtics should win if they're really as good as they've been the last four months.
The two-seed is there for the Celtics -- if they want it. We'll see if they really want it (and if the Bucks want it, for that matter) when the two teams take the floor in Milwaukee on Thursday night.
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