Here’s a look at the wild Eastern Conference standings scenarios for the Celtics

The Bucks, Celtics, and 76ers now all share the same record.

Celtics standings
Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics is defended by Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Eastern Conference standings — which were already a knotted shoelace — tightened even more on Tuesday.

Entering Tuesday’s action, the Celtics — who enjoyed a second off-night in a row — sat in second place and held a half-game lead over both the Bucks and the 76ers. But the Bucks beat the Bulls comfortably, and the 76ers fended off a late rally by the Pacers, which evened all three teams up at 49-30 with three games remaining.

In the event of a three-team tie in the standings, an incredibly complicated list of tiebreakers begins to unfold. Here’s our best attempt to explain the landscape and what Celtics fans can expect.

The scenarios

  1. Let’s assume the Celtics, Sixers, and Bucks end the season with the same record. We start with winning percentage, which — of course — just means “Did you tie?” The answer here is yes. Simple enough so far.
  2. The second tiebreaker credits the division winners. The Bucks have clinched the Central Division, which leaves it to the Celtics and Sixers to figure out the winner of the Atlantic (the Heat, by the way, are a win or a Celtics loss away from clinching the No. 1 seed). The Celtics own the tiebreaker over the Sixers by virtue of their division record (9-7 vs. 6-9), so the Sixers would lose a three-way tie and drop down to fourth in the standings.
  3. That leaves the Celtics and Bucks, which means we are now dealing with a two-team tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker in a two-team scenario is head-to-head record. The Celtics could clinch the tiebreaker with a win. If they lose, the head-to-head this season would even up at 2-2.
  4. In some cases, the next tiebreaker would be division winning percentage, but that only applies if the teams are in the same division, so the Bucks’ 11-3 advantage over the 9-7 Celtics doesn’t actually matter.
  5. Instead, we go to conference record, which is incredibly close as well — the Celtics have a 32-18 record, while the Bucks are 31-18. If you click on the NBA’s standings before Wednesday’s games begin, conference record is the reason the order is currently 2) Celtics 3) Bucks 4) 76ers.
  6. Hang on — we aren’t quite done making your head spin yet. The Celtics and Bucks could still finish with the same conference record if the Celtics finish 1-1 in their remaining games against East opponents (Bulls and Bucks) and the Bucks finish 2-1 (Celtics, Pistons, and Cavaliers). In that scenario, the tiebreaker goes to record against conference playoff opponents — which includes the play-in teams per the Action Network’s Matt Moore. The Celtics are 19-12 against the top 10 in the Eastern Conference while the Bucks are 16-15. Both teams have just two games apiece remaining against Eastern Conference playoff opponents, so this is where the tiebreaker rabbit hole would definitively end for the Celtics and Bucks: A three-way tie between the Sixers, Celtics, and Bucks would clinch 2) Celtics 3) Bucks and 4) Sixers.
  7. For anyone curious: If the Celtics and Bucks had the same record against conference playoff opponents, the next scenario is record against Western Conference opponents. The Celtics are 9-10 with a game against the Grizzlies remaining, while the Bucks are 9-11, so if that tiebreaker failed as well, the next scenario would be point differential (the Celtics win comfortably). In the intensely unlikely scenario that point differential failed, the NBA would perform a random drawing.

Remaining schedule

Here’s where things look a little tougher for the Celtics: They have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the NBA, based on winning percentage. With games against the Bulls, Bucks, and Grizzlies, they certainly look like they could have the most difficult path forward.


Two things to keep in mind: First, the Bulls will be on the second night of a back-to-back when the Celtics play them on Wednesday. Second, the Grizzlies — who have clinched the No. 2 seed — will likely be resting their players for the final game of the season.

The Bucks have the 21st-toughest schedule remaining based on winning percentage, but games against the Celtics, Cavaliers, and tough-minded Pistons won’t be easy.

The Sixers have the Raptors and Pistons remaining, but a game against the Pacers should be very winnable.


The standings remain far too close to call. A case could made that the Sixers should be slight favorites based on their game against the Pacers or the Celtics based on the three-team scenario, but the last week of the season looks like it will be a wild ride.


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