Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics have plenty to smile about as they head into the postseason. (AP)
Congratulations to the Boston Celtics, who locked up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on the final night of the 2016-17 NBA season, and will have home-court advantage throughout the Eastern playoffs for the first time since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen first came to Massachusetts.
Boston clinched the top spot in the conference when the Toronto Raptors knocked off the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-83. That defeat dropped the Cavs — who rested stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for the season finale — to 51-31, ensuring that they would not finish tied with the Celtics, who entered Wednesday with 52 wins before knocking off the Milwaukee Bucks 112-94 to finish at 53-29.
That is Boston’s highest win total since the 2010-11 season, when Doc Rivers led the Pierce-KG-Ray C’s to a 56-26 mark before bowing out in the second round of the playoffs to the Year 1 Big Three Miami Heat. It also secured the Celtics’ first No. 1 seed since the 2007-08 campaign, the first year of Boston’s new Big Three era, which saw the C’s go 66-16 and win the NBA championship. Celtics fans will hope history repeats itself this time around, culminating in the hanging of Banner 18 this coming fall.
The Celtics, who finished the season on a three-game winning streak, will open the postseason against the No. 8 seeded Chicago Bulls, who clinched their playoff berth on the final night of the season by blowing out the Brooklyn Nets. Boston split its season series with Chicago, two games apiece.
“I’m excited about progress, from the standpoint that we’ve been consistent in our approach,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the game. “We haven’t got too high or low with regard to long losing streaks or, if things don’t go our way, not being able to respond. Most good teams are that way.”
The Cavs, who ended things on a four-game losing skid, will host the No. 7 Indiana Pacers, who locked up their spot by knocking off the Atlanta Hawks. It would’ve been nice to get LeBron against his former Miami running buddy Dwyane Wade in the first round, but if this month’s double-overtime showdown between LeBron and Paul George was any indication of what’s to come, I think we’ll be able to make our peace with a few games of that, thanks.
To say nothing of the other renewal of unpleasantries that a Cavs-Pacers matchup brings:
But… we do get this.So… #NBA bring on the #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/RNazR46aDe
— Jorge Sedano (@SedanoESPN) April 13, 2017
The rest of the Eastern playoff bracket was already set heading into Wednesday night. The third-seeded Raptors will face the sixth-seeded Bucks, while the No. 4 Washington Wizards will play host to the No. 5 Hawks.
Out West, the top-seeded Golden State Warriors will take on the No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers. The No. 2 San Antonio Spurs will face their frequent postseason foils, the No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies. Two of the NBA’s top MVP candidates will square off when James Harden’s third-seeded Houston Rockets match up with Russell Westbrook’s No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder. The Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz will battle in the conference’s 4-vs.-5 series, though it’s not yet determined as of press time which team will have home-court advantage in that series.
The 2017 NBA playoffs begin Saturday.