Is the No. 2 seed in reach for restart Celtics?

Is the No. 2 seed in reach for restart Celtics?

Can the Boston Celtics catch the Toronto Raptors for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference?

As you digest Friday’s schedule release, which mapped out the eight games that all 22 teams will play when the NBA restarts in Orlando next month, the lingering question is whether Boston has any chance to shimmy up the East standings before the playoffs begin.

The schedule-makers have at least given the Celtics a chance to climb, all while secure that they won’t fall lower than the No. 3 spot.

Boston (43-21) will enter the restart three games back of Toronto (46-18) with a potentially pivotal head-to-head matchup looming on August 7. The Celtics’ will be challenged out of the gates in seeding games — drawing the East-leading Bucks in their opener, playing a Portland team that will be fighting for its playoff lives in Game 2, and trying to fend off the nearby Heat in Game 3.

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But the rest of the schedule, outside of the Toronto game, is especially agreeable and will give Boston a chance to build some momentum before the playoffs arrive. 

Toronto, meanwhile, has one of the more challenging slates. Not only do the Raptors play the Heat and Bucks, but there are games against Philadelphia, Denver, and the West-leading Lakers.

Making up three games over an eight-game schedule will be no easy chore for Boston. Losing that Toronto game would almost surely lock up the No. 2 spot for the Raptors. Think of it this way: Even if Toronto goes a meager 3-5 during its eight-game schedule, Boston would have to go 6-2 AND win the head-to-head matchup to jump in front of the Raptors. 

It means Boston has to come flying out of the gates without much of the rust that teams will undoubtedly exhibit. But if Boston plays to its potential, it can at least make the Raptors sweat a bit.

Before the season paused, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index favored the Celtics in 10 of their next 11 games. The only projected loss was a trip to Toronto. Playing on a neutral court could be a benefit to Boston considering their struggles north of the border in recent years.

Just how hard should Boston push for that No. 2 seed? That might ultimately hinge on the Celtics' preferred first-round matchup. If the Sixers linger in the No. 6 spot, the 3-6 matchup becomes a bit more of a challenge than a top seed might prefer in Round 1 because of Philadelphia’s talent and potential. Again, playing on a neutral site negates the usual homecourt advantage a 2 seed might enjoy in Round 2, so it might not be worth emptying the tank. It doesn’t matter who is the 2 seed if Boston and Toronto both win their first-round matchups and draw each other in Round 2.

Still, it’s something to keep an eye on.

If the Celtics struggle, it’s prudent to remember that they still have work to do to lock up the 3 seed. Miami enters the restart 2.5 games back of Boston, but three in the loss column due to an extra game played. Say the Celtics go 4-4, Miami would have to go 7-1 to leapfrog based on the extra loss. Yet again, a head-to-head matchup looms big in that quest. 

The motivation for the Heat in any pursuit of the 3 seed would be avoiding a team like Philly if they were to shimmy up to No. 5. Only two games separate the 4-6 spots with the Heat, 76ers, and Pacers.

One Miami writer parsed strength of schedule by looking at how teams fared against only the 22 teams competing in Orlando. Toronto ended up with the second most difficult schedule, behind only Denver. Miami had the fourth-hardest schedule. 

Boston slotted 18th on that list of toughest schedules.

That we’re even contemplating how the standings might shake out is the best sign of all that basketball is truly back. It won’t be the same and it’s impossible to know how teams will respond in such a unique environment but it’s going to be fascinating to watch how the standings shake out.

Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

Celtics accomplished this rare NBA scoring feat in blowout win vs. Nets

The Boston Celtics dominated the Brooklyn Nets with a bounce-back performance inside the NBA bubble Wednesday night, and they accomplished a rare feat in the process.

The C's cruised to a 149-115 win and had seven players score in double figures, including all five starters. Jaylen Brown led the team with 21 points, giving him at least 18 points in all four seeding games so far. Second-year center Robert Williams (18 points) and backup point guard Brad Wanamaker (13 points) also played well offensively. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Celtics nearly scored 150 points in a game without overtime and none of their players tallied 25 or more points. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Boston's 149 points were the most by a team without a 25-point scorer since the Seattle SuperSonics in 1994.

The Sonics defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 150-101 in that game, and they had 10 players score in double-figures. Seattle finished with the league's best record in the 1993-94 season, but the team was upset by the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics will return to game action Friday night versus the second-place Toronto Raptors. It's the most difficult matchup remaining on Boston's seeding game schedule.

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

We suspect a significant spike in attendance at our next Robert Williams Fan Club meeting after Wednesday night’s performance. Please be sure to check the updated seating assignment for all those attempting to re-board the now socially-distanced Timelord hype train.

The 22-year-old Williams offered a firm reminder of his potential by erupting for a career-best 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and a steal in a breezy win over the Brooklyn Nets. Williams was plus-21 over nearly 19 minutes of floor time, which included some surprising first-quarter burn.

Our senior leadership committee will be tasked with determining whether this was Williams’ best game of his NBA career. A November 2019 visit to San Antonio (11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks) finally has a challenger for that crown.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

What we saw Wednesday was the sort of performance that escaped Williams in Boston’s three scrimmages. It’s the sort of performance that none of Boston’s younger players have showcased inside the bubble. Williams and the younger players have rarely left coach Brad Stevens with any reason to ponder a more consistent role.

But Wednesday’s performance will make Stevens think a bit harder about what Williams can offer this team moving forward.

We’ll caution membership from getting too excited about the possibilities. Stevens will not overreact to one performance, particularly not against a Nets team that lacked the energy from its upset over the Bucks the night before. Williams must build off this outing if Stevens is to call on him when the games really matter.

To put it another way, we wouldn’t be surprised if Williams played only sparingly against Toronto on Friday night. But given that none of Boston’s youngest players have stated a strong case for increased playing time entering Wednesday’s game, Williams becomes the first one to submit an application that Stevens must consider (and rookie Romeo Langford, with his continued solid wing defense, has done the same).

Williams did typical Williams things. His first six makes were all at the rim, including a pair of alley-oop finishes (most notably a particularly sexy set play in which Gordon Hayward sprung Williams with a backside screen and Marcus Smart delivered a long-distance lob). Williams capped his night with a 20-foot jumper, showcasing newfound range in a late-clock situation.

His blocks were relatively quiet, at least by his volleyball-spike standards. Williams did come rushing with help to swat a Joe Harris offering across the court, then practically leaped over Langford to swat a Dzanan Musa layup attempt.

Williams played with quick hands on the defensive end. He showcased his passing skills with an ability to spray the ball to cutters and open shooters on the perimeter.

But it’s all about building off a big night. Two games after his big performance in San Antonio, Williams experienced ankle soreness and sat out. He never generated momentum, and injuries have been a primary culprit early in his NBA career. Hip issues in December forced him to the sidelines for three months.

Williams says he’s healthy now and he needs to keep making Stevens think. He has to dominate outside of game action, whether that’s putting in extra work on off days or shining in practices.

The potential is so obviously there. It’s why none of us with real estate on Timelord Island are willing to sell our properties. Williams has the potential to be an X-factor in the postseason. Or he might not play at all. It all comes down to whether he shows enough now for Stevens to trust him, especially on the defensive end.

Williams doesn’t have to be perfect like his shooting chart on Wednesday. But he has to be consistent. But if he keeps maximizing his opportunities, more chances will follow.