Celtics

Here are the Celtics’ playoff seeding, matchup scenarios entering final day of regular season

The Celtics can finish with the No. 2, 3, or 4 seed.

Steven Senne
How Celtics coach Ime Udoka decides to play the regular-season finale will likely determine which seed his team gets in the playoffs.

Entering the final day of the NBA regular season, the Celtics can still end up in any of three playoff seeds and have six potential first-round playoff opponents.

Boston is 50-31 entering the regular-season finale, good for the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics trail the Bucks for the No. 2 seed by one game while the 76ers equaled the Celtics’ record following their win over the Pacers on Saturday.

As the Bucks, Celtics, and 76ers jockey for the No. 2-4 seeds in the East and four teams sort themselves in the play-in spots, there are only three teams set in stone in playoff seeding entering Game 82. The Heat have the conference’s top spot, giving them home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Raptors clinched the No. 5 seed on Friday following their win over the Rockets, which means the Bulls are locked into the No. 6 seed.

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For the play-in teams (No. 7-10 in the conference), the Nets, Cavaliers, Hawks, and Hornets are all within a game of each other.

Here’s every possible seed the Celtics could hold and every possible opponent they could have in the first round.

How the Celtics could get the No. 2 seed.

  • Celtics win over the Grizzlies and Bucks loss to the Cavaliers.

If the Celtics want the highest seed possible, they’ll need some help. Before their game tips off in Memphis at 7 p.m., the Celtics will need the Cavaliers to defeat the Bucks at home. That game tips at 3:30 p.m., so the Celtics will know if their hopes of getting the No. 2 seed or not are still alive roughly an hour before they take the court on Sunday.

Luckily for the Celtics, the Cavaliers have something to play for on Sunday. If they win, they’ll clinch the No. 8 seed or better, which means they’ll only have to win one of the play-in games instead of two in order to reach the playoffs. On the flip side though, Cleveland has struggled as of late. It has lost eight of its last 10 games as All-Star center Jarrett Allen has been out with a fractured finger. The Cavaliers did get rookie phenom forward Evan Mobley back on Friday after he missed five games, but they still lost to the Nets.

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The Bucks followed up their Thursday win over the Celtics with a demolishing win over the Pistons on Friday. Milwaukee listed stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton plus Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis as doubtful for Sunday, potentially opening the door for the Celtics to slide into No. 2. The Celtics haven’t shared if anyone will rest yet in Sunday’s game. Jayson Tatum and Al Horford both sat out Thursday’s game.

How the Celtics could get the No. 3 seed.

  • Celtics win and Bucks win OR
  • Celtics loss and 76ers loss to the Pistons

How the Celtics could get the No. 4 seed.

  • Celtics loss and 76ers win.

A Celtics win on Sunday would guarantee them at least the No. 3 seed via a tiebreaker by virtue of having a better divisional record than the 76ers.

But if they lose to the Grizzlies, who could have star point guard Ja Morant back in the lineup, they’ll need some help to remain in one of the top three seeds. The 76ers host the Pistons on Sunday at the same time the Celtics play the Grizzlies, so there will be some in-game scoreboard watching to see how things could shake out.

Even if the Grizzlies don’t play Morant, they’ll be a tough beat. Memphis is 20-4 without its superstar this season, a big reason why it has already clinched the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. While the Grizzlies don’t have anything to play for on Sunday, they could opt to play Morant to help rev him up for the playoffs after missing the last nine games. They face the Blazers later on Saturday, so they could share their plans for Sunday shortly after that game.

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As for Philadelphia, head coach Doc Rivers didn’t share how his team will approach the final game of the season following Saturday’s win. Rivers played most of his regular rotation players, including Joel Embiid and James Harden, on Saturday.

If the 76ers do play their regular rotation of players, Sunday’s game against the 23-58 Pistons might not be a sure thing. They just lost to the Pistons on March 31 and Detroit’s had some impressive showings down the stretch, beating playoff teams such as the 76ers, Raptors, and Cavaliers, and playing competitive games against the Heat and Nets.

Who the Celtics could play in Round 1.

  • If they get the No. 3 seed: the Bulls
  • If they get the No. 4 seed: the Raptors

In terms of getting the most favorable first-round matchup, getting the No. 3 seed could be the best-case scenario for the Celtics. They would take on the Bulls in that case, who have struggled mightily since the All-Star break, going 7-15 in that stretch.

Boston also got to see how it could fare in a potential first-round preview with Chicago on Wednesday, winning 117-94 in a road blowout. The Bulls also announced earlier in the week they’ll be without starting point guard Lonzo Ball who helped keep their defense together in the early parts of the season, the rest of the way.

Chicago looks like a really favorable matchup too when compared to Toronto. The Raptors have won 14 of their last 17 games, helping them get out of the play-in to clinch a playoff spot. Not only are the Raptors are a tougher team, but the Celtics could also be without a key player if they were to face them. Due to Canada’s vaccine mandate, players who aren’t fully vaccinated cannot play in games in Toronto. The Celtics had three healthy players sit out (Tatum, Horford, and Jaylen Brown) their game in Toronto in March, leading some to question if they were fully vaccinated or not. Horford confirmed that he is fully vaccinated and Tatum has already said he’s vaccinated. Brown refused to say earlier in April if he was vaccinated or not, citing his role on the NBPA board as his reason why.

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The Celtics are 2-1 against the Bulls this season and are 2-2 against the Raptors.

  • If they get the No. 2 seed: the Cavaliers, Nets, Hawks, or Hornets.

In the scenario that the Celtics get the No. 2 seed, that means the Cavaliers defeated the Bucks on Sunday, placing them in either the No. 7 or 8 seeds.

The Nets just need to defeat the Pacers on Sunday to clinch the No. 7 seed, so if the Nets and Cavaliers win on Sunday, whoever gets the No. 2 seed will face the winner of Tuesday’s Cavaliers-Nets game.

But if the Nets lose to the Pacers, who are 25-56 and losers of their last nine, one of the Hawks or Hornets could slide into Tuesday’s game against the Cavs. If the Hawks beat the Rockets, they’d slide into face the Cavaliers on Tuesday. If the Hornets beat the Wizards and both the Nets and Hawks lose, Charlotte would get to face Cleveland.

The Celtics hold winning records against the Hornets and Cavaliers this season, but all three matchups against Cleveland took place in 2021. They’re 2-2 against the Hawks, but have won their last two matchups, which came after they began their surge up the Eastern Conference standings.

Boston’s 3-1 against Brooklyn, too. While two of those wins came against the Nets without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, both stars played in the last matchup between the two teams, which the Celtics won.

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