With just 6 games left in regular season, the Celtics trail the Toronto Raptors by just 2 games. Coming off a 110-99 win against the Raptors this past Saturday and another matchup with the conference leaders on Wednesday, the C’s have a good chance of reclaiming 1st place.
Along with the matchup with the Raptors, the final stretch of games includes matchups with Washington, Chicago, Brooklyn, Milwaukee, and Atlanta.
Aside from Toronto, only the Wizards and the Bucks are above .500 when it comes to win percentage. A pretty easy finish to the season for a team that has been in one of the top 2 spots in the conference since November.
I expect the C’s to take the games against the Bulls, Hawks, and Nets. Those are teams that they are clearly better than and with 1st place on the line, this team knows that it has to play at a high level even against weak competition.
As far as the games against Milwaukee, Toronto, and Washington, those will be no easy feat to overcome.
On the season the Celtics are 2-1 against the Bucks, losing the first matchup on October 18th and going 2-0 against the Bucks since that first matchup. Their most recent win, a 111-100 win on December 4th against Milwaukee came on a night where Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 40 points.
The boys in green are also 2-1 against the Raptors and 2-0 at home. However, traveling to Toronto on the back end of a back-to-back with the Bucks and Raptors adds another level of difficulty to the contest. The fatigue that sets in with back-to-backs is already difficult to overcome, never mind when you’re traveling in between the games.
On the other hand, playing a team twice in a 5-day span can be beneficial. First of all, the team is still fresh in your mind because it hasn’t been two months since the last time you played each other, as is usually the case with non-divisional matchups.
Having just beaten the Raptors on Saturday, in a game where Terry Rozier had 21 points, Marcus Morris had 25, and Jayson Tatum had 24, gives me a lot of hope that this team can get their 3rd win against the Eastern-Conference leading Raptors.
Washington is a team that has given the Celtics some of their hardest fought games all year. The C’s are 1-2 against the Wizards this season, including a 125-124 double-overtime loss and a 110-104 overtime win. The overtime game, however, was missing John Wall, and the double OT loss was missing Wall and Kyrie Irving.
Next week’s matchup will include John Wall, but no Kyrie Irving, a situation we have not yet seen between these two teams so far this year. It will definitely be a close game like the previous 3 matchups this season.
Hopefully, the C’s can do what they need to do to win out the rest of the regular season and give themselves a chance to reclaim 1st place and avoid a 2nd round matchup with the Cavaliers.
In order for the Celtics to take first, it will also require the Raptors to lose at least 3 games, in addition to the game against the C’s.
Having contests on the road against Cleveland and Miami, two playoff teams and a game against the Pistons, who have been known to steal some big wins since acquiring Blake Griffin, it is definitely possible.
In Boston its all about banner #18 and securing home-court advantage while avoiding the playing either the Cavaliers and Raptors until the conference finals definitely gives the Celtics their best chance at getting to the finals.
The C’s finished first in the conference last year and made it to the conference final before getting bounced by Cleveland, but this year things are different and the Cavs are not the dominant team they once were.
While 1st place in the conference will make the road to the finals easier, I believe this team can get there no matter which road they face. With Kyrie coming back by the second round, the team will be near whole again and will surely make a splash this postseason.