The Boston Celtics were agonizingly close to the franchise’s 22nd NBA Finals last summer. Holding a 3-2 lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, they dropped the final 2 games, including an 87-79 defeat at home in Game 7 after missing 32 of 39 shots from behind the arc.
The truth is that an injury-ravaged roster lacked the silver bullets to take out Lebron James and company. Once top guards Kyrie Irving (knee) and Gordon Hayward (ankle) returned from season-ending injuries, the logical conclusion was that Boston was ready to erupt into the East’s best team.
The explosion waited until March 5, as the Celtics ripped apart the 2-time defending champion Golden State Warriors 128-95 in Oakland. Hayward led the barrage with 30 points, aided by Irving’s 19 points and 11 assists.
The Celtics now sport a 39-26 record, which puts them at No. 5 in the Eastern Conference standings. They trail the Sixers by 2 games for the 4-seed, and the Bucks by 9.5 for the top one.
Tonight, they stay in Northern California, as they visit Sacramento (10 p.m. EST, NBC SCA) with a chance to build off momentum and climb the conference ladder. Let’s take a look at their NBA Playoff predictions with 17 games left.
Celtics Playoff Chances & Potential Seeds
The Celtics still have an outside shot at the 3-seed, as they trail the Pacers by just 3 games. According to Playoff Status, Boston possesses an 9 percent chance of passing Indiana. The 5-seed is the highest likelihood at 65 percent, while the 4-seed is a one-quarter possibility.
This would pit the Celtics against Philadelphia in the first round. Once centers Joel Embiid and Boban Marjanovic return from injuries, that’s a formidable frontcourt matchup for Al Horford and Marcus Morris.
ESPN’s BPI also picks Boston at the No. 5 spot, but has them facing the Pacers. It also calls for the Celtics to finish 50-32 and gives them the fourth-best odds at winning the title at 6.8 percent.
Tonight’s game is more critical for Sacramento than Boston per Playoff Status. A Kings win bumps their postseason chances to just 22 percent, as opposed to 13 percent with a loss. A Boston loss to a hungry team would give them a 71 percent chance at the 5-seed.
Most Important Games Down the Road for the Celtics
Unfortunately for the Celtics, they possess one of the harder remaining schedules out of Eastern Conference teams according to Playoff Status. That consists of games against Western Conference contenders such as the Clippers, Nuggets and Spurs, as well as a home-and-away with the Pacers.
Team Rankings pegs their final record at 50-32. That includes only 2 games with less than 50 percent win probability (at Indiana on April 5 and at Philadelphia on March 20). After this Monday’s game against the Clippers at Staples Center, every matchup has a 58 percent win probability or more.
The 3 games against the 3 through 5-seed grouping of Indiana, Philadelphia and Boston looms large. With the trio separated by just 3 games, a Celtics sweep could turn the tide and shot them up the standings.
Only one of those games will take place at Boston’s TD Garden. The Celtics have just a 15-16 record on the road.