BOSTON (CBS) – Former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau probably still has a soft spot in his heart for Boston and it showed last night. His Chicago Bulls improved the Celtics’ chances of making the postseason with an 89-78 win over the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena.
The loss dropped Miami’s record to 35-44 and the Heat now sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings for the time being. That drop off gives the Celtics a little bit of breathing room in the East, as they tackle a challenging four games remaining in their regular season.
As the Eastern Conference standings currently line up, Boston holds the 7th seed, thanks to a tiebreaker over the Brooklyn Nets.
7. Celtics 36-42
8. Nets 36-42
9. Pacers 35-43
10. Heat 35-44
The farther down the Heat drop in the standings in the next few days, the happier Celtics fans should be, primarily due to the fact the Heat hold the playoff tiebreaker over Boston.
Miami won the season series between the two teams by a 3-1 margin, so a regular season tie for Boston involving the Heat will likely send the Celtics home for the year, barring a three-team tiebreaker.
With the news breaking that LeBron James is expected to suit up in Cleveland against Boston tonight, Boston’s margin for error just got a bit smaller. However, a 4-0 finish was never likely for the Celtics in the next week, not when this team was slated to face four playoff teams.
The possibility the Celtics could skate by with a 3-1 or 2-2 record in those four games and still hold onto their playoff spot is now fully in play though, thanks to Miami’s latest setback.
Recent losses by the Heat (they have dropped five of their last six games) have put the Celtics fully in control of their destiny. Barring a complete collapse by the green, Dwyane Wade and company will need to win their final three games in order to catch Boston. If the Heat lose one more, a distinct possibility with the Raptors coming to Miami on Saturday night, Boston could finish 2-2 and still stay one game ahead of Miami in the standings.
The Nets and Pacers have tougher schedules than Miami down the stretch, so the Celtics should be able to count on both of those teams losing a game or two. Boston also has a tiebreaker edge on both, so they can afford just to keep pace with both squads.
That’s not the case for Boston’s battle with the Heat though. In order to feel safer about their playoff chances, the Celtics need Miami to keep losing while they take flight for a .500 or better finish.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.