Considering the way the Celtics have been playing, it’s hard not to hop on board the playoff hype train. At this point, the seven and eight seed are basically a tossup between Boston, Indiana, Charlotte, Brooklyn, and Miami. Milwaukee, the current six seed, is only 3.5 games ahead of the seventh seed and they are 3-7 over their last 10 games. In other words, there are six teams fighting for three spots in the Eastern Conference. Lets consider the three possibilities for Celtics first round match ups given the circumstances.
Surprisingly NOT the least favorable of the possible match ups. Most Celtics fans would probably rather see the Hawks in the first round as opposed to Cleveland. Sure, Boston’s season record against the Hawks is a losing one (1-2) but we have matched up well against them so far this year. A loss in early December came at Atlanta, where the C’s shot a solid 49 percent from the floor, and 52 percent from beyond the arc. Despite splitting the games at home, this shows the Celtics don’t freeze up playing in Philips Arena.
The Celtics’ 89-88 victory over the Hawks in February came at home, and served as a turning point for the season. With the way the Celtics are playing since February 1 (13-6), they should be able to recreate a victory like this one. If Boston could secure either Game 1 or 2 in Atlanta, there is a good chance they could take a series against the Hawks to at least six games.
Why do the Celtics match up well against the Atlanta Hawks? They are both teams which utilize all of their tools. The play a nearly-perfect team brand of basketball, while the Celtics are still optimizing their version of it. With that said, Atlanta matches up well against teams such as the Rockets, who isolate a single star player such as James Harden. The Celtics give them a challenge because they any player could be their best scoring option on any given night.
Every Celtics fans wants revenge against Lebron James and the Cavs, but this is the last team they should want to meet in the playoffs. Since Lebron’s return from a brief injury Cleveland has been an absolute monster. The Celtics have only met Cleveland twice so far this year and both games were losses. In November, long before the Cavs reached full swing, the Celtics gave them a close game in a 121-122 loss at the Garden. When the teams met again in March, now that BOTH teams are playing at a good clip, the Cavaliers embarrassed the Celtics, 79-110, in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers really are a scary team, and the Celtics don’t match up particularly well against them. Even if Jae Crowder is able to shut down The King, the Cavs just have so many other legitimate scoring options. Maybe Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley are able to cover Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith, who are also huge scoring threats, but that still leaves Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov available. The Celtics just don’t answers for a team with so many options, especially not with a lacking defensive front-court like Boston’s against an all-around powerhouse like Cleveland.
Even if the Celtics could steal one game in this series, Lebron doesn’t take kindly to losing or being shut down. The night Cavs obliteration of the Celtics in March came two days after the Cavs tough loss in Houston in the game prior. Two of the Celtics last four games of the season are back-to-back against the Cavaliers. Let’s hope these games are not repeats of the March game, and are not a look at our upcoming playoff opponent. If they are a preview, lets hope Brad Stevens and the Celtics can figure out an answer for the red-hot Cavaliers before the series begins.
Although the least likely, the Raptors should be every Celtics fans hope for a first round playoff matchup. Toronto has had Boston’s number so far this season, winning 110-107 in the Garden and then 109-96 in Toronto. However, the two teams have not played each other since the All-Star Break (and will not play again until’ they play twice in two weeks in April). Since the All-Star Break, things have been anything but good for the Toronto Raptors. In fact, things really haven’t been on track for them since the injury of Demar DeRozan earlier in the season. While Kyle Lowry continues to put together solid efforts night in and night out, DeRozan is only just getting back in the swing of things during this month of March.
The Celtics and the Raptors are just in entirely different places since the All-Star Break. Where the Celtics have been hot as can be, the Raptors have been ice cold. They are 2-8 over their last 10 games, which is worse than fellow Atlantic Division teams such as the 76er’s and the New York Knicks. Assuming that this trend continues, this could actually be a great series for Boston. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but a first round match-up against the Toronto Raptors could result in a 4-1 or 4-2 series win for Boston.
If the Celtics want the luxury of playing the Raptors in the first round of the playoffs, they have to play hard for the rest of the regular season. They are still five games behind the sixth seeded Milwaukee Bucks at the moment. The C’s would need a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, and a lot of losses from the Bucks to get this ideal playoff match-up.
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