At stake is a leg up in the Atlantic Division race, with no less than a first-round homecourt playoff series on the line.
The Celtics have pulled into a virtual tie with the Sixers thanks to a superb post-All-Star break run. The Sixers, meanwhile, built a big lead in the standings early on but have hit a rut, going 2-8 in their last 10 games.
If neither the Celtics nor the Sixers can take control the rest of the way, the Knicks are lurking. If not for Rajon Rondo‘s triple-double or Paul Pierce‘s herculean second half, New York may have stolen a victory in Boston on Sunday.
While all three teams seem booked for the postseason, the division crown could determine who makes it out of the first round. The teams that fail to finish first probably await dates with the Bulls and Heat.
The Celtics have one benefit the Knicks and Sixers don’t: They’ve been here before. Aside from Tyson Chandler of the Knicks, the current members of both rosters only know disappointment in big games. The remaining games this season will reveal whether the Celtics’ experience wins out.