Celtics Blog

Eastern Conference Playoffs Tiebreaker Guide: Where Do The Celtics Have A Edge?

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe

With the three days remaining in the NBA regular season, the Eastern Conference playoff race still has a crowded field. Three teams are in the mix with the Celtics for two playoff spots and only three games separates those squads in the standings.

Boston’s win over the Cavs on Sunday puts them in terrific position to secure a postseason spot. Below is an updated look at the East standings:

6. Milwaukee 40-40
7. Boston 38-42
8. Brooklyn 37-43
8. Indiana 37-43
10. Miami 35-45

Currently, the magic number for the Celtics to make the postseason is one. A single Celtics win in their final two games (vs. Toronto, @ Milwaukee) or a single loss by the Pacers or Nets in one of their two remaining games will guarantee Boston a spot at the postseason table.

However, the tightness of the race means there’s a distinct possibility two or three teams will end up knotted up with the same record at the close of the regular season on Wednesday.

So what happens if such a scenario occurs? Over what teams do the Celtics hold an edge in any potential tiebreaker? And what happens if there is a tie with multiple teams?

Let’s go through a list of tiebreaker procedures, courtesy of NBA.com.

1. Division winner (this criterion is applied regardless of whether the tied teams are in the same division)
2. Best head-to-head winning percentage among all teams tied
3. Highest winning percentage within division (if teams are in the same division)
4. Highest winning percentage in conference games
5. Highest winning percentage against playoff teams in own conference
6. Highest point differential between points scored and points allowed


Below are ways that potential tiebreaker scenarios would play out:

Two-way tiebreakers explanation: Since there are no division winners fighting for the final two spots in the East, tiebreaker No. 1 is not in play. When it comes to tiebreaker No. 2 (head-to-head winning percentage), the Celtics are in good shape due to winning season series against the Nets and Pacers. Miami would hold a tiebreaker edge over Boston, but are unable to catch the Celtics since they trail by three games in the standings with two games to play.

Here’s a look at all the head-to-head tiebreakers.

Celtics-Nets: Celtics win tiebreaker (Boston won season series 3-1)

Celtics-Pacers: Celtics win tiebreaker (Boston won season series 3-1)

Heat-Nets: Heat win tiebreaker (Miami won season series 4-0)

Heat-Pacers: Pacers win tiebreaker (Indiana won season series 3-1)

Nets-Pacers: Nets win tiebreaker (Brooklyn won season series 2-1)

Three-way tiebreakers explanation: Once again, tiebreaker No. 1 is not in play. When considering tiebreaker procedure No. 2, the cumulative head-to-head record for each team against the two squads is calculated. For example, since the Celtics went 3-1 against both Brooklyn and Indiana this season in head-to-head matchups, they would have a 6-2 record (with a .750 winning percentage) in said tiebreaker. The rank of each team is spelled out for this tiebreaker is below, as well as the cumulative records, which are listed in parentheses. The Heat are not included in any three-way tiebreakers with Boston since it’s impossible for them to catch the Cs in the standings with just two games left.


Celtics-Nets-Pacers: Celtics win tiebreaker. 1. Boston (6-2), 2. Brooklyn (3-4) 3. Indiana (2-5)

Nets-Pacers-Heat: Heat win tiebreaker. 1. Miami (7-1) 2. Indiana (4-3) 3. Brooklyn (2-5).

Four-way tiebreakers: The same rules would apply here as the three-team tiebreaker. But the Heat have no chance of catching the Celtics in the standings to force such a scenario.

By taking care of business in head-to-head matchups against playoff competition like Indiana and Brooklyn in the past few weeks, the Celtics have given themselves a helpful cushion against these squads entering the final week of the regular season.

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