The Boston Celtics will have to beat out five other postseason hopefuls if they wish to grab one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spots. So far, they’re doing a pretty good job.
Brad Stevens’ club still sits two games back of the eighth seed as of Tuesday morning, but a 100-90 win over the Miami Heat on Monday improved Boston’s record to 2-0 in matchups against fellow bubble teams since the All-Star break. The Celtics also knocked off the Charlotte Hornets, who currently sit in that eighth spot, 10 days earlier at TD Garden.
Now, success in these type of games won’t assure the Celtics an opportunity to extend their season. They could win the seven remaining games against Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls left on their schedule (two each against the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, plus single meetings with the Heat, Hornets and Brooklyn Nets) and still wind up on the outside looking in, especially with dates with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder still looming.
Those games are, however, chances for Boston to measure where exactly it stands in relation to its direct competition.
“We’ve been behind all year,” Stevens told reporters after Monday’s win. “I said it (Monday), we’re not playing with any cushion. We’re playing just trying to get back in it. We have to play really well over the last 20 games to have a chance to do that, because the other teams are playing well, too. Miami’s playing well coming into this game. Charlotte, Indiana — go through the list. All those teams, they’re all playing really well. It’s going to be hard to catch them because we’re behind, but we’re going to put our best foot forward.”
Monday’s game certainly felt like a playoff game — as many of the Celtics’ remaining tilts likely will. Top scorers Isaiah Thomas and Dwyane Wade matched one another nearly shot-for-shot in the fourth quarter (they combined to score 27 of the 53 total points in the frame), and the chippy, physical nature of the game resulted in three ejections.
“Of course (the intensity picked up),” Celtics guard Evan Turner, one of the three players tossed, said. “They were trying to make a comeback. The crowd was into it. D-Wade started the fourth quarter well, and I think we had a lot of big plays, as well. There was a lot of energy in that fourth quarter.”
The Celtics return home this week but begin a difficult stretch, hosting the Grizzlies and Orlando Magic (who came back to beat the C’s on Sunday) before visiting a Pacers team that’s won five straight. They’ll hope the grittiness and resolve they showed down in Miami carries over.
Thumbnail photo via Robert Mayer/USA TODAY Sports Images
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