Why Celtics Are On Track To Become Worst No. 1 Seed In NBA History


A blowout loss like the one the Boston Celtics experienced Tuesday night is ripe for overreaction.

The Celtics, after all, now trail the Chicago Bulls 2-0 in their first-round NBA playoff series after back-to-back losses on their own floor, despite entering as the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 overall seed ahead of the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers.

But we’re not here to discuss whether Brad Stevens should be fired or if Danny Ainge should blow it all up. We’re dealing with facts, and the fact is Boston is on track to be the worst No. 1 seed in NBA playoff history.

First, consider this: The Celtics’ .646 regular season winning percentage (53-29) is the lowest of any East No. 1 seed since the 2006-07 Detroit Pistons, and their plus-2.7 point differential is the lowest by a No. 1 seed since the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics. But even those Pistons had no problem sweeping the Orlando Magic out of the first round en route to the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Sonics went on to win the 1979 NBA Finals.

In fact, only five No. 1 seeds have been bounced by No. 8 seeds in the first round. Here’s the list:

1994: Denver Nuggets (42-40) def. Seattle SuperSonics (63-19) in five games*
1999: New York Knicks (27-23) def. Miami Heat (33-17) in five games*
2007: Golden State Warriors (42-40) def. Dallas Mavericks (67-15) in six games
2011: Memphis Grizzlies (46-36) def. San Antonio Spurs (61-21) in six games
2012: Philadelphia 76ers (35-31) def. Chicago Bulls (50-16) in six games

*Best-of-five series

The 2016-17 Celtics have a lower winning percentage than any of those No. 1 seeds and are in danger of getting swept with the series heading back to Chicago for Games 3 and 4. On that note: Boston is the only top seed to fall 2-0 in a first-round playoff series since the 1993 Phoenix Suns, who rallied for three straight wins to defeat the Los Angeles Lakers.

That last stat is a reminder that this series is far from over. Perhaps a trip away from TD Garden will do some good for the Celtics and Stevens — who now owns a 2-10 record in NBA playoff games — and spark a Suns-esque turnaround. But if the C’s can’t solve the Bulls, they very well could cement a dubious place in NBA lore.

Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images

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