The Boston Celtics find themselves in a familiar position. But this time, they’ll be hoping for unfamiliar results.
The Celtics officially clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night for the third consecutive season. Barring a late-season collapse, they’ll likely wind up with the No. 2 seed — at worst, it appears, No. 3 or No. 4 — in the Eastern Conference and be poised for a deep playoff run.
Yet reality failed to fulfill similar expectations last season, when the Atlanta Hawks bounced Boston in the first round. The Celtics have yet to win a playoff series under head coach Brad Stevens, and another first-round exit this spring would be, quite frankly, a disaster.
So, what does the first round look like for the C’s as of Tuesday? ESPN’s Chris Forsberg offered a glimpse:
It’s almost guaranteed Boston’s first opponent will come from a group of six teams. With that in mind, let’s rank those clubs from the Celtics’ most favorable matchup (1) to their least favorable (6).
1. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were ninth in the East as of Wednesday would need to get their act together to pair up with Boston. We wouldn’t hate hearing the TD Garden crowd irk Jae Crowder by showering applause on potential trade target Jimmy Butler, though.
2. Detroit Pistons
Sure, Andre Drummond could give the C’s problems in the paint, and all four Boston-Detroit matchups this season have been decided by seven points or fewer. But the Pistons have lost four of their last five and just aren’t playing good basketball right now. Even if Detroit does manage to stop its skid and make the playoffs, the Celtics shouldn’t be too worried.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
If the season ended Wednesday, the Celtics would face Milwaukee and matchup nightmare Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks took Boston to overtime in January and always play the C’s close, but they still don’t have much depth outside Antetokounmpo after Jabari Parker’s season-ending injury. Oh, and they also haven’t won a first-round playoff series since 2000.
4. Miami Heat
The Heat have lost exactly six games since Jan. 13. That’s not a team you want to face in the playoffs. On paper, Miami isn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with, and the Celtics are 3-0 against them to date this season. But Hassan Whiteside could give Isaiah Thomas serious problems at the rim, and Dion Waiters’ offensive confidence never has been higher (which is saying something).
5. Indiana Pacers
Could we see a first-round preview Wednesday night when the C’s play the Pacers? Paul George, always a postseason threat, leads an Indiana roster with a potent balance of seasoned veterans (Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis) and talented youngsters (Myles Turner, Glenn Robinson III). Turner could do damage on the boards, while George has the star power to send this series to seven games.
6. Atlanta Hawks
Will the Hawks slip a couple spots and set up a postseason reunion with Boston? Celtics fans would rather them not. Atlanta waxed the C’s by 16 points in the clubs’ last meeting and just seems to have Boston’s number, winning six of the teams’ last nine regular-season matchups dating to the 2014-15 season. The Celtics are better equipped to defeat the Hawks in a seven-game series than they were last year, but let’s save a potential Act II for the second round, shall we?
Thumbnail photo via Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports Images
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