In the Eastern Conference, anything is possible.
Despite starting the season 20-33, the Boston Celtics are on their way to the playoffs after the Brooklyn Nets were blown out by the Chicago Bulls, 113-86, Monday night.
Owning a 1.5-game lead and the tiebreaker over the Nets, Boston is safely in following a one-year postseason absence.
And even though a first-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers likely awaits, Celtics play-by-play man Sean Grande reiterated that Boston has yet to solidify its seed with two games remaining:
The Celtics—who have won four straight following back-to-back victories over the resting Cleveland Cavaliers—will close out their schedule with a home game against the Toronto Raptors and a road meeting with the sixth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.
|1. Atlanta*||60-21||0.0||1. Golden State*||66-15||0.0|
|2. Cleveland*||52-29||8.0||2. San Antonio*||55-26||11.0|
|3. Chicago*||49-32||11.0||3. L.A. Clippers||55-26||11.0|
|4. Toronto*||48-32||11.5||4. Portland*||51-30||15.0|
|5. Washington*||46-34||13.5||5. Houston*||55-26||11.0|
|6. Milwaukee*||41-40||19.0||6. Memphis*||54-27||12.0|
|7. Boston*||38-42||21.5||7. Dallas*||49-32||17.0|
|8. Indiana||37-43||22.5||8. New Orleans||44-37||22.0|
|9. Brooklyn||37-44||23.0||9. Oklahoma City||44-37||22.0|
|10. Miami||36-45||24.0||10. Phoenix||39-42||27.0|
NBA.com, *denotes clinched playoff spot
While the Celtics punched their ticket on a night they were idle, their late-season run wasn’t facilitated solely by a woeful East.
Yes, the sub-.500 struggles consuming the race for the East’s seventh and eighth seeds provided an extra boost, but the Celtics have been objectively excellent since acquiring Isaiah Thomas at the trade deadline.
Dating back to Feb. 20, Boston is 18-11, which trails only the Cavaliers’ 19-7 record for the best mark among Eastern Conference teams in that span. The only other clubs with superior win totals are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz.
On the efficiency spectrum, Boston has touted the league’s ninth-best defense since the trade deadline and benefited from an offense that’s produced at league-average rates commensurate with the Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks.
But if anyone has the right to speak up regarding the Celtics’ late-season progress, it’s Thomas.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Averaging 19.5 points and 5.4 assists since first suiting up on the parquet, Thomas has bolstered his Sixth Man of the Year credentials with invaluable bouts of scoring that kept Boston breathing in its quest to secure a playoff spot. When he’s been on the floor, the Celtics offense has produced like the Clippers’ league-best unit, according toNBA.com, which is no small feat.
Given that Boston entered mid-February scoring at a lower rate than the Los Angeles Lakers, Thomas doesn’t just deserve hardware for his efforts—he needs a key to the city.
And sure, the Celtics’ postseason stay will likely be short. But their developmental progress points to a future brimming with playoff possibilities.
“It’s everything,” Thomas said of the postseason, according toCeltics.com following Sunday’s 117-78 win over Cleveland. “In my NBA career I haven’t been to the playoffs so it’s something that I want to experience. I heard it’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s a new season. Once you make the playoffs, everybody’s 0-0 and it’s a new season so I’m excited about it, hopefully we do get it.”
Go ahead and pinch yourself, Isaiah. The playoffs aren’t a dream anymore—they’re a reality.