I have no doubt that you’re all aware that, technically, the Celtics could still sneak into the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. If Cleveland decides to play all of their guys tonight against Atlanta and Washington goes full throttle on Wednesday against the Hawks, the Celtics could get the 3rd seed back by beating Charlotte and Miami.
I hope that happens, and I’ll be pulling hard for the Cavs tonight. But let’s get a little more realistic. The Celtics are very, very unlikely to get the 3rd seed, which relegates them to the 4th, 5th, or 6th spots. Getting the 4th seed would obviously be the best move for the Celtics… or would it?
The 2015-2016 Celtics season has been all about measuring how close the Celtics are to being a contender. They can’t win it this season, but they’ve also made tons of strides since last season’s trade deadline that has put them on the fast track to contenderhood. If this season doubles as a barometer for the Celtics, isn’t it most important for us to see just how far into the playoffs to go?
If that’s the case, then it might be better for the Celtics to get the 6th seed rather than the 4th. Such a drop would necessitate the Celtics beating Atlanta without homecourt advantage, which is a tall task, considering that the Hawks are a tougher matchup for the C’s than the Heat or (definitely) the Hornets. Yet, if the Celtics beat the Hawks in the 3-6 matchup, they would be in a much better spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, facing the Toronto Raptors rather than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Raptors would be the perfect playoff test for the Celtics. How far can ateam go when it’s built around perimeter defense? And how much can the Celtics’ perimeter D carry them in the postseason against a great team? Against the Raptors, with Lowry and DeRozan, we would find out the answers to those questions, and we would learn how the Celtics measure up to the Raptors on the biggest stage. The conventional wisdom about the Raptors, which I agree with, is that they’re the best team who can’t win it all this season. (The Clippers could also claim that title.) Therefore, the C’s need to jump ahead of the Raptors to have a shot at banner #18, and a Raptors-Celtics series would present the perfect opportunity for us to see how far the Celtics are from that level.
Imagine if the Celtics got to the Conference Finals. Suddenly, they would be a perfect free agent landing spot, and every superstar who wants to get traded (BOOGIE!!!) would tell his agent to put the Celtics on his trade list. Sure, they would lose to the Cavs, especially because the NBA and the ghost of David Stern would give LeBron and the Cavs every call if it got to a Game 7 in Cleveland. But that would be a fun ride, and it would speed up the Celtics’ ascension that is already going 100 MPH.
In the end, I’d rather have the Celtics get the #4 seed because the Hawks are that much better than the Heat or the Hornets. The Hawks are by far the worst matchup for any of the 3-6 teams, and I don’t want the Celtics to get the unlucky draw. I’m realistically hoping for Celtics-Hornets at the 4-5 series (regardless of whether the C’s are the 4 or 5 seed, because the Hornets are not on the Celtics’ level). I’m ok with Celtics-Heat as 4-5 as well, but all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t mind it if the C’s drew the Hawks at the 3-6 matchup and stayed on the Raptors’ side of the Eastern Conference bracket.