WALTHAM, Mass. — If the Boston Celtics can’t be in the postseason, at least they can affect it.
Starting with Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, four of the Celtics’ final five games in the regular season are against opponents that are at least mathematically alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. How the Celtics fare in these last few games could therefore go a long way to determining who joins them in their long offseason.
“We want to be that team,” Rajon Rondo said. “Hopefully, we can mess up Atlanta’s record a little bit more (Wednesday), knock those guys out of the playoffs. Who knows? Every night I go out there, I try to compete and win, so it’ll be the same (Wednesday).”
The Celtics (23-54) play three straight against Atlanta, Charlotte and Cleveland. The Hawks are clinging to the eighth and final playoff berth in the East, four games up on the Cavaliers. If the Cavs were to win their final four games, they would finish 35-47, so they would need the Hawks to lose their last six games and finish 34-48 in order to jump Atlanta in the standings.
The Bobcats and Washington Wizards, Boston’s opponent in the season finale, have each clinched playoff spots, but their seeding is up for grabs, making these last two weeks crucial for both clubs. Jared Sullinger doesn’t need to be told that twice.
“I think a lot of these guys know what’s going on, and a lot of these guys know the seeding that’s going on in the Eastern Conference,” Sullinger said. “We have a chance to mess that up.”
Then again, not everyone associated with the Celtics gets a rise out of ruining things for others. Coach Brad Stevens shrugged off his team’s potential for playing spoiler, which would have a debatable benefit to the Celtics’ long-term plan.
“I don’t get a lot out of that,” Stevens said. “I think it’s more about focusing on us. I’d like to see us play better and build some momentum, so I don’t get a lot out of that, personally.”
At this point, there is little else for the Celtics to play for besides professionalism and pride. Whatever extra motivation they need to get them through April 16, they’ll take it.