TORONTO – Tuesday night losses by both Boston and Toronto took away the potential for tonight to be a winner-takes-over-the-East battle.
Nonetheless, its significance is still great.
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The Celtics (53-24) come in trailing Toronto (55-22) by two games in the East with four to play after tonight.
Even if the Raptors are able to hold on to the top spot, a Celtics win tonight would be a major blow to Toronto and boost for Boston.
A Boston win would give the Celtics the head-to-head series three games to one, which would include a rare road win against Toronto team that has won at home like no other team in the East this season (31-7).
In addition, it would be the second win in less than a week for the injury-riddled Celtics over a Toronto team that at full strength.
And if the two were to meet in the playoffs, it wouldn't be until the Eastern Conference finals when Boston would likely have its top scorer (Kyrie Irving) and top defender (Marcus Smart) back in the lineup.
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Combine their return with a more confident group of Boston role players and you have the makings of a Celtics team that would be well-positioned to continue the trend we’ve seen in the East where the No. 2 seed fares better than the top overall seed.
But for the Celtics, playoff seeding takes a back seat to the team’s health, which has been an issue all season.
The latest victim of the injury bug is Terry Rozier, who did not play in Boston’s 106-102 loss at Milwaukee on Tuesday because of a left ankle sprain.
Prior to the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Rozier was about “80 to 85 percent” healthy but would not return to the floor until he closer to being fully healthy.
“We’re not playing him if he’s not better than that,” Stevens said. “Obviously with...our health situation being what it is, Terry’s gonna have a lot of minutes ahead. So we want him to feel great.”
And for Boston, feeling great is completely independent of winning tonight and potentially winding up with the best overall record in the East for the second year in a row.
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Still, as important as good health is to this team going into the playoffs, Jaylen Brown is among the Celtics who isn’t ready to concede the top spot in the East to Toronto just yet.
“I feel like we’re the number one team,” Brown said recently. “The number one seed would be fitting, but we have to just come out and play basketball. There’s a lot of teams that think otherwise; Toronto is one of them.”