BOSTON -- Beating the Indiana Pacers 109-100 on Wednesday was about more than padding the win column while improving their position near the top of the East standings.
It was also a potential preview of who they might face in the first round of the playoffs, a scenario that will play itself out several times in the Celtics’ last 10 games of the regular season.
In fact, five of Boston’s remaining games (Miami, Milwaukee twice, Atlanta and Charlotte) are against teams that are likely to be the pool of potential first-round foes that the Celtics will face next month.
And of those five games, three (Miami and Milwaukee twice) will be at the TD Garden, which has given rise to optimism that the Celtics can finish the season strong enough to potentially catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the overall top seed in the East.
Boston’s win over Indiana, coupled with Cleveland’s 126-113 loss at Denver, moves the Celtics within one game of the Cavs.
“It’s going to be good for us,” said Avery Bradley, referring to playing potential playoff foes to close out the regular season. “Every team is playing hard right now and it’s our job to continue to keep playing the right way and trying to prepare for the playoffs.”
The Celtics did just that on Wednesday against the Pacers, establishing a defensive presence early on that soon morphed into solid play offensively that enabled Boston (46-26) to emerge victorious for the fifth time in their last six games.
And doing so against a potential playoff opponent made the victory that much sweeter.
“It’s very important,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “Every win is big, every game is big. But especially against those teams we might end up facing (in the playoffs). We have to control what we can control, especially at home. We have to take care of business.”
Wednesday’s victory was the latest success story at home for Boston which has won 12 of its last 13 at the TD Garden.
But as well as they have played, the Celtics have left themselves plenty of room for improvement.
They came into Wednesday’s game averaging 13.2 turnovers per game, which would be a franchise-low if they can maintain that through these last 10 games.
But on Wednesday, they had 14 turnovers by halftime.
“There were moments in the first half where we were careless,” said coach Brad Stevens. “And then there were moments that it was just like one of those nights where for whatever reason we missed a few catches, we missed a few, probably, easy passes. For whatever reason those nights happen.”
But the Celtics were a completely different team in terms of turnovers in the second half, courtesy of a stern tongue-lashing by Stevens.
The second-half turnaround by Boston turning the ball over -- they only had three in the second half -- shows both the potential problems and the promise of figuring it out on the fly that makes this Celtics team one to watch come playoff time.
“We’re almost there,” Bradley said. “We’re close.”