The Celtics put themselves in better position than ever to secure one of the final two playoff berths in the Eastern Conference with Friday night’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Still, plenty of uncertainty remains with three games remaining in the regular season, and three other teams still battling Boston for those tickets to the postseason.
So what exactly needs to happen for the Celtics to make the postseason?
Their magic number to make the postseason entering play on Saturday is two. Any Celtics win or loss by both the Pacers and Heat reduces the magic number by one. Once it hits zero, the Celtics are in the postseason.
And how could Brad Stevens and company be stuck on the outside looking in when the regular season ends on Wednesday?
Let’s run through all the scenarios to paint a clear picture of where the Celtics stand.
Eastern Conference Standings
6. Milwaukee Bucks 39-40
7. Boston Celtics 37-42
7. Brooklyn Nets 37-42
9. Indiana Pacers 36-43
10. Miami Heat 35-44
***(Celtics own tiebreaker over Nets if both teams finish regular season with same record since they went 3-1 against Brooklyn in the regular season)
Celtics remaining schedule: Sun vs. Cleveland, Tue vs. Toronto, Wed @ Milwaukee
If Celtics go 3-0: Boston makes the postseason and will finish with no worse than the No. 7 seed in the East since they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Nets. There is also a very slim chance Boston could finish in the No. 6 seed, but the Bucks would need to lose their final three games of the regular season for that to be a possibility. A road game against the Sixers on Monday night for the Bucks makes that scenario unlikely.
If Celtics go 2-1: Boston makes the postseason, and it is highly probable they finish with the No. 7 seed. The only scenario in which the Celtics would fall to the No. 8 spot is if the Brooklyn Nets go 3-0 to finish out their regular season, which would put them one game ahead of Boston. If both teams go 2-1, the Celtics get the edge thanks to their tiebreaker.
If the Pacers finish 3-0, they would match Celtics in the standings with identical 39-43 records, but Boston owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, so they would still remain ahead of Indy. Miami is two games back of Boston, so they would be unable to catch the C’s if they go 2-1.
If Celtics go 1-2: This is where things get a little bit murky for Boston. There’s still a chance they would sneak into the postseason, but it wouldn’t happen without some help. The Celtics would need both Miami and Indiana to lose one of their final three games to ensure a playoff berth. If either Miami or Indiana (but not both) were to win out, the Celtics could still get in, but they would need the Nets to go 1-2 (or worse) in their final three games.
If Celtics go 0-3: The playoffs would still be possible. Boston would need all the other playoff contenders to go 1-2 or worse in the final week in order to back into a playoff spot.