The Celtics finish up their regular season with a home game against the Miami Heat Wednesday and there is plenty on the line. For all practical purposes, the playoffs start tonight for Brad Stevens & Co.
A win against the Heat gets the Celtics the fourth seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. A loss and the Celtics can fall all the way back to the sixth seed.
Miami tops Detroit, making Boston’s path to No. 4 seed slightly more difficult. Updated seeding scenarios: pic.twitter.com/L6UQ9R1dGs
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) April 13, 2016
For a young team like the Celtics, with very little playoff experience, home court advantage is extremely important. They have been a good home team this season with a 27-13 record at TD Garden. On the road, the C’s are 20-21. Having the first two games at the Garden will be a confidence boost for Boston.
But let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter where, or who, the Celtics play unless they start playing better and more consistent basketball. The Green have not been as good a team in the last two months of the season as they were for the season’s first four months.
One of the best stats to see how a team is playing is point differential (PD). Here is a month-by-month look at PD for the Celtics.
November: + 4.6
December: + 3.4
January: + 4.3
February + 4.3
March: – 0.5
April: + 1.2
As you can see, the Celtics were a consistently good team outplaying their opponents for the first four months of the season. The last two months? Not so good.
There are higher expectations for the Celtics this postseason. Last year, fans were just happy to see them get to the playoffs. This year, those same fans are expecting at least a first round playoff win and some Green Teamers believe they can make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
With the way the Celts have played the last two months, the conference finals may be overly optimistic. Playoff basketball is different than the regular season. The games are more intense, more physical, and played at a much slower pace. That’s not good news for the Celtics. They are not built for that style of play.
So what needs to happen for the Celtics to have a successful playoffs run? No. 1 is that they need to rebound the basketball much better. They are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the game. They must limit second and third shots by their opponents if they want to be successful.
They need Isaiah Thomas to be an efficient scorer. Last year in the playoffs, the Cavaliers knew that Thomas was the Celtics go to guy. They made a point of stopping Thomas. And it worked. While he did score 17.5 points per game against Cleveland, he shot just 33 percent from the floor and a ghastly 16 percent from three point land, well below his regular season averages. Isaiah needs to score and take good shots as opposed to forcing his offense.
Jae Crowder needs to play like he did before he sprained his ankle. Before he hurt his ankle against the Rockets on March 11, Crowder was the Celtics most valuable player. He was a consistent scorer on offense and was their best defender. Remember last year in the playoffs how he brought toughness and energy to the team, and how he made LeBron work for his points? Since coming back from his injury, he has been a bit tentative and has lost his explosiveness. He needs to be the pre-injury Jae Crowder for the Celtics to be make a run.
Jared Sullinger has to give the Celtics an inside game and rebounds. He is the teams best down low presence on offense and their best player on the boards. The playoffs are a more physical brand of basketball and Sullinger is their most physical player. Sullinger needs to stop falling in love with his outside shot and do the dirty work down low. This is a big post season for Sully as he is a restricted free agent this summer. The Celtics will be taking a long hard look at his to see if he is in there future plans.
I expect the Celtics to win their first round series no matter the opponent. After that, all bets are off. If they are the fourth or fifth seed, they will play Cleveland in the second round and I don’t give them much of a chance there. If they fall to the sixth seed, they will play Toronto in the second round. I think that would be a competitive series with the Celtics having a chance of winning, especially given how the Raptors have played like dogs in the postseason.
Some call the NBA playoffs the real season. For the Celtics, the real season begins this summer when they have plenty of cap room and Brooklyn’s No. 1 pick to build a team that will contend for world championships.
In the meantime, sit back and enjoy what could be a fun playoff run.