I know we’re all still on a high after Friday night’s game. And why wouldn’t we be? The Boston Celtics ended the Golden State Warriors 54 game home winning streak in dramatic fashion, winning 109-106. The Celtics did what they needed to do on their west coast trip, going 3-2, ending with the big win against the Warriors and defeating a Kobe Bryant lead Lakers team one last time, while clinching a spot in the playoffs. With five games left, the Celtics sit at the four seed in the East, but we could easily see them go into playoffs as good as the three seed, but as bad as the seven seed. That makes these last five games crucial for the Celtics.
Both Atlanta and Boston are 45-32 on the season, but Atlanta holds the 3 seed due to head-to-head matchups. Sitting behind the Celtics are the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets in the six and seven seeds respectively, with records of 44-32, just .5 games back of the C’s. You can see that these middle seeds in the East are in a log jam and anyone could end up playing each other in the first round.
As it stands, the Celtics would match up with Miami in the first round of the playoffs; a matchup Celtics fans and Miami “fans” are used to seeing, but with a whole new look now that LeBron James is back in Cleveland. But even with age, Dwayne Wade is still a dangerous player. At 34 years of age and twelve years of NBA experience under his belt, D. Wade is still averaging 19.2 points per game this season. Along with the veteran Wade, the Heat have the 26 year old big man, Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside averages a double-double with 14.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. He’s also a nightmare for opposing offenses on the inside, as he averages a league leading 3.7 blocks per game. Whiteside could do damage against the Celtics since the C’s don’t have a true low post big man. Their closest thing to one for the Celtics would be Jared Sullinger, but at 6’9”, he would be at a significant disadvantage against the 7’0” Hassan Whiteside. Honestly, I’d rather see the Celtics play someone else in the first round other than the Heat.
So who would I rather see the Celtics play in the playoffs? Out of the potential teams they could play, I think the Hornets are a good matchup for the C’s. If the Celtics can claim the 3 seed from the Hawks, and the Hornets stay where they are in the rankings, this will be the matchup we would see. Their best player is Kemba Walker, who is able to put up points no matter who he plays, averaging 21.1 ppg. After Walker, Nicolas Batum is the Hornets next leading scorer. Batum can shoot the three ball and at 6’8”, can work down low and from beyond the arc. However, I see Jae Crowder as a good matchup to limit Batum’s offensive production. Charlotte’s biggest inside presence is former Celtic, Al Jefferson, who never really lived up to his potential in the NBA and is now on a downward trend in his career. Though he can still be a threat inside, I don’t think Jefferson has the ability to take over an entire game, let alone an entire seven game series. I could see the Celtics beating the Hornets in 5 games if they get that matchup.
The Pacers and Hawks are the two other potential matchups for the C’s. I wouldn’t want to see the Hawks in the first round because they have so many different players that can beat you and play tremendous team basketball. They also have recent playoff success, making it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015. I’d also be weary of the Pacers due to Paul George. Star power can be huge for a team in the playoffs. When a team needs a boost, it is crucial for them to be able to look to a player that can take over a game, and the Pacers have that player. It’s also good to see a Celtics team that has that player for the first time in a while, as it’s looking like Isaiah Thomas can fill that role. Truthfully, I think the Celtics can win the first round no matter who they play, but I’d like to see the easiest route to the next round.