BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics and Pacers can’t clinch anything on Friday night. But with just three games left in the regular season, their clash in Indiana is still a must-win for both teams.
For the Celtics, it’s an opportunity to take a firm grasp of the four-seed in the Eastern Conference. For the Pacers, it’s a chance to steal it back.
The two teams are both 47-32 heading into Friday night’s tilt, though the Celtics currently own the tie-breaker thanks to their 2-1 record against the Pacers this season. They can secure that tie-breaker for good with another W on Friday, but if Boston stumbles and the two teams end up finishing with identical records at the end of the regular season, it would come down to their records against conference opponents. The Celtics own a one-game lead in that department, but again, that would fly out the window if they lose on Friday.
So yes, Friday is still a must-win for the Boston Celtics if they want to host at least one round in the NBA Playoffs. And even if they come out victorious Friday night, they should still view Sunday night’s visit from the Orlando Magic (fighting for the eight-seed in the East) as another must-win. Win their next two games, and the Celtics will have the four-seed and host the opening round of the playoffs. It’s that simple. Then, maybe they can coast in their season finale against the Wizards next Tuesday.
However, that game may mean something as well. With Philadelphia blowing a late lead to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, the Celtics miraculously have an outside shot at the three-seed in the East. The 76ers have lost three straight and are only two games up on Boston. The Celtics own the tiebreaker over Philadelphia thanks to their 3-1 record against them during the regular season. If the Celtics win two more games than Philly the rest of the way, they’ll leapfrog into the three-seed, which no one thought was possible a few weeks ago.
That remains a big long shot, since the 76ers play the 22-win Bulls twice in their final three games. Their other game comes against the Miami Heat, who currently rail the Magic by a half-game for the final playoff spot in the conference. And it is all assuming the Celtics actually treat their two non-Pacers games as must-wins, which is no guarantee. Not to mention, Boston may actually prefer the four-seed and playing the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in the first-round, setting up a potential matchup with the top-seeded Bucks in the second round. As wild as it sounds, Boston matches up better with Milwaukee than they do against the two-seeded Toronto Raptors.
With the Celtics enjoying a recent turnaround, winning four of their last five and looking like a team that actually gives a damn, there is reason to believe they may actually take advantage of the situation ahead of them. They’ve tried to convince us that homecourt isn’t important, and they can flip a switch in the playoffs. But with a home playoff series within their grasps, they need to grab it while they still can.