Who will the Celtics play in the first round? Nets vs. Cavaliers preview

The No. 2 Celtics will take on the 7-seed.

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving
Kevin Durant talks with Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets after the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center on April 8. Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Celtics are locked into the 2-seed after their season came to a close on Sunday, but we still don’t know who they’ll face in the first round.

The two candidates: The Cavaliers and the Nets, who face off on Tuesday in a bid to earn the 7-seed and an opportunity to take on the Celtics. Here’s everything you need to know.

When: 7 p.m.

Where to watch: TNT

Will the Celtics be watching? Eh.

“No,” Al Horford said on Sunday. “I mean, obviously I’ll follow the game. I might watch it. I’m going to have to watch it at some point, because we’re going to play either one of them, but it’s not high on my priority list.”


Who would the Celtics rather face? No preference, apparently.

“We’re not trying to dodge anybody, we believe in ourselves,” Payton Pritchard said. “Go in and whoever we play, we’re going to be ready.”

The Celtics were 2-1 against the Cavaliers with a net rating of 4.8.

The Celtics were 3-1 against the Nets with a net rating of 12.1 … but it’s crucial to remember that the Nets were without all of their best players in two of those meetings. The Celtics split the other two — they were blown out in their first contest (an early-season game) but won the most recent 126-120 behind a superstar 54-point performance by Jayson Tatum.

… But who would the Celtics rather face? Obviously the Cavaliers.

That’s no disrespect to a fun, talented young Cavaliers team — they will be a problem in the Eastern Conference for years to come with a core of Darius Garland and Evan Mobley, as well as Jarrett Allen and Collin Sexton. While they are the NBA’s 19th-ranked offense, they are far superior defensively (6th, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions) to the Nets (21st, third-worst of any potential playoff team).

Still, the Cavaliers are banged up. Sexton is out for the season, and Allen is still recovering from a fractured finger on his left hand. Allen hasn’t been ruled out for the playoffs, but the fact that he will miss Tuesday’s game doesn’t bode well for the Cavs.


The Nets, meanwhile, have Kevin Durant (and, to a lesser extent, Kyrie Irving). That’s enough to nudge the preference in one direction, no matter what the numbers say.

Who are the Celtics more likely to face? Probably the Nets.

Allen’s absence hurts the Cavaliers quite a bit — they are 3.0 points per 100 possessions better with Allen on the floor thanks to a big defensive boost, per Cleaning the Glass.

Meanwhile, the Nets are 3-1 against the Cavaliers this season with a net rating of 5.7. The last time they met was just three days ago — a 118-107 Nets victory, behind Kevin Durant’s 36-point performance.

So was earning the 2-seed worth it? That’s a subjective question, but our two cents is yes. If you can’t beat a short-handed Nets team, were you really a contender in the first place? If you do, you face the Bucks with the benefit of home-court advantage.

When will the first round start? We don’t know yet but either Saturday or Sunday.

“I think we’re really confident,” Pritchard said. “I think we believe in ourselves and we only have one goal in mind. Obviously it starts one playoff series at a time, but we’re ready.”


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