Celtics’ Playoff Tiebreaker Scenarios Show 76ers With Upper Hand, Hawks on Shaky Ground

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The Celtics are as close as they have been this season to seizing home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. They entered Friday tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead and the top-four seed that goes with the division title.

In addition, the seventh-seeded Celtics were just one game behind the Atlanta Hawks for the sixth seed and two games behind the Pacers for the fifth seed. If the Celtics continue to play like they have since the All-Star break and one of those teams has a down week, Boston could quickly find itself advancing in the standings.

This could be where the Celtics' 15-17 record in the first half of the season could come back to haunt them. The poor start put Boston at a disadvantage in many tiebreaker scenarios, adding an extra obstacle as they try to improve their seed.

Here is a look at where the Celtics stand in the tiebreakers with their possible foes for East seeding.

Philadelphia 76ers (28-22)
Current seed: Fourth (First in Atlantic Division)

Games ahead of Celtics: Zero
Vs. Celtics: 2-0; Sixers won 103-71 in Philadelphia on March 7; Sixers won 99-86 in Philadelphia on March 23

Tiebreaker: The Sixers won the first two of their three meetings with the Celtics this season, giving them the first tiebreaker with the Celtics. The final meeting in Boston on April 8 will have no bearing on the tiebreaker.

Celtics earn higher seed if: They finish with a better overall record than the Sixers.

Atlanta Hawks (30-22)
Current seed: Sixth (Third in Southeast Division)

Games ahead of Celtics: One; Zero in loss column

Vs. Celtics: 0-1; Celtics won 79-76 in Atlanta on March 19

Tiebreaker: The Celtics hold the tiebreaker for now by winning the first meeting, but they play the Hawks twice in a span of 10 days in April. The Hawks rebounded from a rough February to win 10 of their first 17 games in March.

Celtics earn higher seed if: They finished with a better overall record or finish with the same record after winning one of the two remaining games against the Hawks.

Indiana Pacers (30-20)
Current seed: Fifth (Second in Central Division)

Games ahead of Celtics: Two; Two ahead in loss column

Vs. Celtics: 2-1; Pacers won 87-74 in Boston on Jan. 6; Pacers won 97-83 in Indiana on Jan. 14; Celtics won 94-87 in Boston on Jan. 27

Tiebreaker: The Pacers hold the advantage for now by winning two of the first three head-to-head matchups, but the teams play again in Indianapolis on April 7. If the Celtics win that game to split the season series 2-2, the second tiebreaker would be division win-loss percentage. The Celtics have the edge for now with a 6-4 record in their division, while the Pacers are 4-3 in the Central with division games remaining against the Cavaliers and Bucks twice each, and the Pistons and Bulls once each. The Pacers also got a gift from the schedule-makers by playing Chicago in the season finale; it is possible the Bulls would rest many of their top players in that game if their playoff seed was secure.

Celtics earn higher seed if: They finish with a better overall record than the Pacers; they finish with the same record, win the April 7 game in Boston and finish with a better division record.

New York Knicks (26-25)
Current seed: Eighth (Third in Atlantic Division)

Games behind Celtics: 2.5; Three behind in loss column

Vs. Celtics: 1-2; Knicks won 106-104 in New York on Dec. 25; Celtics won 91-89 in Boston on Feb. 3; Celtics won 115-111 in Boston on March 4

Tiebreaker: The Celtics are in as close to ideal position as can be expected here. They hold a three-game edge in the loss column, which means the Celtics would have to topple and the Knicks would need to continue to play quality ball (which they have not done consistently all season) for New York to close that gap. The Celtics play a three-games-in-three-nights set on the road from April 13-15, but they have a day off before traveling to Madison Square Garden on April 17 for their final meeting with the Knicks. A Celtics win in that game would give Boston the head-to-head tiebreaker at 3-1. New York also has one of the toughest stretches to finish the season with Hawks (twice), Pacers, Magic, Bulls (twice) and Heat all awaiting in the final month. The Knicks also have two more losses in the division than the Celtics.

Celtics earn higher seed if: They finish with a better overall record than the Knicks; they finish with the same record and win the April 17 game in New York; they finish with the same record, lose the April 17 game in New York but finish with a better division record; they finish with the same record, lose the April 17 game in New York, finish with the same division record as the Knicks but finish with a better conference record.

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