Celtics Face Critical Five-Game West Coast Swing As NBA Playoffs Loom

The Boston Celtics had a reason to be riding high Wednesday. They had just beaten the second-best team in the Eastern Conference (albeit without Kyle Lowry) and in the process clinched their first winning season since 2012-13. But head coach Brad Stevens was the first to point out the ride isn’t over yet.

“You don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games,” Stevens said after his team’s win over the Toronto Raptors. “So we’ve got a long way to go.”

Indeed, the stakes still are very high for the Celtics with 10 games remaining in their regular season. Boston currently owns the fourth seed in the East, but its spot literally could change on a daily basis, as the Atlanta Hawks, Celtics, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets all are separated by a half game or less.

Stevens is aware of his team’s precarious situation. Kind of.

“I’ve got a general feel for where all the teams are,” he said Wednesday. “I don’t know the exact records. I don’t know the exact tiebreakers and all that other stuff. We’ve said all year the East is deep, and the East has been good. You’re going to have to play well through 82 games to get into the playoffs. Here we are.”

The opportunity is there for the Celtics to finish the season strong, but it won’t be easy. Their next five games will come on the road against Western Conference opponents, starting with the Phoenix Suns on Saturday and continuing with three tough tests in the Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors. Then they’ll close out their season with three massive matchups against the Hawks, Hornets and Heat.

Boston will have to win some, if not all, of its remaining games without key swingman Jae Crowder, who isn’t expected to return until the middle of the team’s West Coast swing at the earliest. The Celtics won’t have much margin for error, either: The Heat’s next four games all are against surefire NBA lottery teams, while the Hawks and Hornets both are 8-2 in their last 10 contests.

The good news for Boston is it enters the home stretch with confidence: The C’s have won three consecutive after dropping four in a row since Crowder first went down. Boston also is benefiting from the white-hot play of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who has scored 20 or more points in 11 consecutive contests and is averaging 26.2 points per game in the month of March.

The East’s playoff picture could dramatically change over the next 10 days, and the Celtics control their own destiny. But Stevens appears content on taking things one day at a time.

“I don’t really look at it as the next chunk of the schedule,” he added Wednesday. “I just look at it as, now we go to Phoenix and play a game. We’ll cross those other bridges when we get to them.”

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts after a basket during the first half against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden.

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