The Celtics will need help to make the In-Season Tournament bracket after faltering in Orlando by 17 on Friday, a disruptive but not fatal blow to their chances. Boston ceded control of the group to the Magic with the loss and a head-to-head tiebreaker, with Orlando’s running up of the score generating a 22-0 edge in the next differentiator — point differential.
Joe Mazzulla said that Boston prioritized health in pulling their starters late in the loss and added at practice on Monday that the team is aware of the need to win by a significant margin on Tuesday. They face a floundering Bulls team that’s coming off four straight losses and dropping 7-of-8. Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso are questionable with foot ailments, but Kristaps Porziņģis will miss another game for the Celtics with Jrue Holiday questionable with an ankle sprain and Derrick White probable with an illness. White participated in shootaround on Tuesday morning, a positive sign for his availability, while Caruso and LaVine shot at the Garden with the Bulls.
The Celtics won’t make the tournament without running up the score on Tuesday, an unfamiliar concept for NBA teams that DeMar DeRozan and Jayson Tatum complained about this last week. Chicago enters without any wins in their tournament slate, eliminated from contention playing only to get their season back on track. Boston plays aware of the implications, but between Mazzulla and the players sounded unenthused overall by the games. Even Luke Kornet, a minimum salary player, said the $500,000 at stake for each player would be a nice bonus while acknowledging they hand’t spoken or thought about it much. He’d pay off the mortgage, he joked.
“You want to win every game you play,” Tatum said. “The point differential thing, I’m not the biggest fan of it because there are certain instances, I guess last Friday, where the game’s already over and guys are still trying to score. It’s all about respecting the game, respecting your opponents. That part, I’m not really a fan of that, because if you were on the opposite end of that, you would feel some kind of way. Just try to win the game however you can.”
If Boston loses or fails to achieve that point differential necessary to secure a spot in the tournament, they’ll play two regular season games next week, one on the road on Wednesday and one at home on Friday against other teams that didn’t make the tournament. That would likely position the Celtics against either the Hornets, Heat, Bucks or Bulls at home and the Pistons, Magic or Cavaliers on the road.
“A formulaic approach will determine the matchups for these games using the Group Play standings in each conference (5th-15th),” the NBA noted. “Two of the 22 games will be scheduled cross-conference since there will be an odd number of teams in each conference that do not advance to the Quarterfinals. These cross-conference games will be scheduled between bottom-finishing teams in the Group Play stage subject to travel constraints, and no team will play more than one of its two games cross-conference. The other 20 games will be scheduled within conference featuring teams that are otherwise scheduled to play each other three times over the course of the season wherever possible.”
As for the scenarios where the Celtics do make the tournament, they’re more likely to play a road game in the quarterfinals than at home, which again, will largely shake out based on today’s point differential results. Quarterfinal games will take place on Monday and Tuesday on home courts, likely Monday for Boston since they’re off on Saturday and Sunday. The semifinals take place next Thursday at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST before the championship next Saturday at 8:30 EST. Here are the games pertinent to the Celtics’ chances:
Hornets-Knicks, 7:30 (NYK 2-1, +18)
Bucks-Heat, 7:30 (MIL 3-0, +39, MIA 2-1, +12)
Hawks-Cavs, 7:30 (CLE 2-1, +6)
Raptors-Nets, 7:30 (BKN 2-1, +7)
Celtics-Bulls, 7:30 (BOS 2-1, +0)
Magic – OFF (3-1, +22)
- The Celtics will win Group C with a WIN by at least 23 points over Chicago AND A WIN by the Nets by fewer than 16 points against Toronto. A loss by Brooklyn AND win by the Celtics eliminates Boston from the group by virtue of Orlando’s head-to-head tiebreaker over Boston. If the Celtics win the group, they’ll face the winner of Group B (MIL, NYK, MIA) at home or on the road, depending on record and tiebreakers, in the quarterfinals.
- The Celtics will win the eastern conference wild card with a WIN AND losses by the Nets, Cavaliers, Heat and Knicks OR
- A WIN by 20 points or more if the Knicks, Heat, Nets and Cavaliers win by one point OR one point more than 20 for each additional point the Knicks win by.
- If the Knicks and Bucks lose, Boston must beat the Buck’s tiebreaker, 38 points or fewer for each additional point the Bucks lose by to Miami. If the Knicks win and Bucks lose, Boston must beat the second-place team’s tiebreaker in the three-way tie — likely Milwaukee.
- Additionally, if the Cavaliers and Nets extend their point differential, they must surpass those differentials too (ex. +28 if Brooklyn wins by 20 tonight. +27 if Cleveland wins by 20 tonight).
- Effectively — the Celtics need to win by as many points as possible. If they receive a wild card berth, they’ll travel to Indiana (4-0) for the quarterfinals on Monday.
Butler is out for Miami against the Bucks with an ankle injury in a bit of assistance for the Celtics while LaMelo Ball’s (ankle) absence for Charlotte hurts the Hornets’ chances to help Boston. There’s an unlikely scenario where the Celtics, Nets, Cavaliers, Knicks and Heat all lose on Tuesday, which would pull the 76ers, Raptors and Hornets into a massive tiebreaker that Boston would inevitably lose due to a negative tiebreaker.
“It’s not that it’s not important, but I haven’t put much thought into it,” Mazzulla said on Monday. “I think whether it’s an in-season, preseason or postseason, go back to the Orlando game, if we’re not going to rebound the basketball on both ends of the floor and we’re gonna turn it over, it doesn’t matter what game it is, we’re not gonna win. Just trying the best we can to stick to the process of winning … if we do get into a situation, I’ll make the best possible decision for our team at that time, but it’s more the process of winning is the most important thing.”