By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Celtics should be better than a team staring at the NBA’s play-in tournament. But currently sitting as the Eastern Conference’s 7-seed with a 26-26 record, that’s exactly where Boston sits with just 20 games left in the season.READ MORE: Tom Brady Weighs In On Salvador Perez's Losing Super Bowl Bet
The Celtics have had to claw their way to that mark too, back at .500 after Wednesday’s hard-fought win over the Knicks. Those Knicks just so happen to be in the 8-seed in the East, a potential play-in opponent for Boston.
The Celtics and Knicks have split their season series, and play each other in the final game of the regular season, which could make that regular season finale in Boston extremely important matchup for both teams. It could be a play-in for the play-in, basically.
The expectation before the season was for Boston to finish somewhere in the top four of the Eastern Conference. But their underachieving ways have them sitting near the bottom of the East. It’s frustrating, given Boston is somehow just a game back from that 4-seed. Any sort of run could catapult them into the spot that most expected them to be in when this whole mess began.
That is a much-desired outcome for head coach Brad Stevens, who spoke about the chances of being one of the eight teams playing for a spot in the postseason in mid-May.
“You are what you are at the end of the year. Each game is worth one. We all need to play as well as we can on a given night to have success. But somebody is going to finish in that group, and when they do they’re going to have to get ready to perform. If you do it well then you can be in the real tournament,” Stevens said ahead of Boston’s win over the Knicks.
Stevens likes the concept of the tournament, saying it’s a good idea from a “fan engagement standpoint,” but that doesn’t mean he wants his team partaking in it.READ MORE: John Henry, FSG Under Fire From Liverpool Fans For Super League Decision
“We hope, just like New York hopes, just like every other team in this mix of teams hopes, that you’re able to find your way above that,” he said. “But, if not, you play the games you’re assigned to play.”
Here’s the quick rundown on the play-in bonanza. The top six teams in both conferences are guaranteed a playoff spot, while the 7-10 teams will duke it out in the play-in.
Game 1 will have the 7-seed host the 8-seed, with the winner securing the 7-seed in the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, the Celtics would host the Knicks in such a scenario. At the moment, the prize for winning that game would be a first-round date with the Philadelphia 76ers, which is as appealing as a greasy pork sandwich served in an ashtray.
Game 2 will see the 9-seed host the 10-seed, and the winner of that game moves on to play the loser of the 7-8 matchup in Game 3. (The loser of Game 1 would host the game.) The losers of Game 2 and Game 3 enter the lottery, while the winner of Game 3 snags the 8-seed.
The Celtics could have to play as many as two extra games before the real playoffs begin, or they could be sent into the lottery and miss the postseason — the real postseason — for the first time since 2014.
Again, the Celtics could avoid all of this if they bust out of this .500 slog and go on a run at some point in the near future. The Hornets are 26-24 on the season, but with LaMelo Ball done for the year and Gordon Hayward sidelined for at least another three weeks with a sprained right foot, Charlotte should fall off a bit. Boston has two games left with Charlotte, as well as a pair with the Miami Heat, whom they trail by half-a-game in the standings at the moment.MORE NEWS: Jabari Parker Is Enjoying His New Opportunity With Celtics
It’s not the best spot to be in, but it’s one the Celtics have put themselves in. The team has a good to get out of this situation, but it will take some really inspired basketball over the next month.