NBA playoffs

2020 NBA Playoffs: Celtics' path more daunting with tournament seeding

2020 NBA Playoffs: Celtics' path more daunting with tournament seeding

The Boston Celtics project to have a daunting playoff path if the NBA is to launch directly into its typical postseason format upon a potential summer restart.

But the possibility of the league testing a 1-16 seeding format could increase the degree of difficulty even further.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed interest in the 1-16 format but has admitted that travel is the biggest impediment in a potential conferences-go-out-the-window format. So as the NBA ponders a single-site reboot to the 2019-20 season, 1-16 playoff seeding is something that Silver could pitch his owners in a season that would already be resuming under unique circumstances.

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Would the Celtics (and other Eastern Conference teams) be on board with that plan?

That vote might hinge on whether the league is planning any additional regular-season games before the playoffs. Some shuffling of the current standings could be advantageous for Boston, if only because the current 1-16 bracket is an absolute bear.

Under the current standings in a 1-16 field, Boston would be the fifth seed and draw the same first-round matchup against Philadelphia as the East-only bracket would deliver. The difference is Round 2 matchups and a possible matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers under the 1-16 format.

In fact, if higher seeds won out, Boston would have to beat the 12th-seeded Sixers, fourth-seeded Clippers, top-seeded Bucks, and second-seeded Lakers to emerge as champions in a 1-16 format. That’s a murderers' row of opponents and the case can be made it would be the four best teams in the entire postseason tournament.

Those four teams have the highest probability of wining the NBA Finals based on FiveThirtyEight’s projections at the time of the season being suspended. The Sixers, Clippers, Bucks and Lakers had a combined 83 percent chance to win the title, according to FiveThirtyEight’s projections, while Boston itself accounted for another 6 percent.

FiveThirtyEight also has a metric called “full-strength rating,” which rates teams based on having all of its top talent available. Sort teams by playoff full-strength rankings and the list goes, 1. Clippers, 2. Lakers, 3. 76ers, 4. Bucks. Boston is sixth with the Rockets one spot in front.

In a typical East-only bracket, the Celtics would swap out the Clippers for the Raptors in Round 2 (again, assuming higher seeds advance). It doesn’t alter Boston’s path all that much considering the Bucks and Lakers would come later, but it's undeniably more desirable to face Kawhi Leonard’s former team than having to deal with him and Paul George on the same Clippers team in Round 2.

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Ultimately, if the NBA can simply resume games and cobble together a postseason, beggars won’t be choosers. This year’s champion is going to have an asterisk attached, regardless of the format, because of the long break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 1-16 format might be a bit more agreeable for Boston if a handful of regular season games shifted the standings a bit.

The Celtics were a game behind the Clippers for the fourth-best record when the season paused and teams 11-13 are virtually tied at the moment. Drawing the Pacers instead of the 76ers, or the Nuggets instead of the Clippers, might be a tiny bit more agreeable — at least as we judge teams based on their potential from what we saw earlier in the season.

From an entertainment standpoint, it’s undeniable that the cross-conference matchups could add some tremendous intrigue.

The Celtics and Clippers played two tremendously entertaining games with a total of three overtimes during the regular season. Getting a best-of-seven series in Round 2 would be phenomenal from a viewer’s perspective.

What’s more, if Kyrie Irving were healthy enough to get back on the court, a first-round matchup between the Nets and Lakers would have some extra sizzle. One potential downside: A possible showdown between L.A. teams would require both squads to make the championship round of the 1-16 format instead of just the conference finals in the typical format (and the Lakers get a very agreeable path to that title round).

That this is even a debatable topic is an encouraging sign as the NBA explores ways to simply restart the season and crown a champion.
 

This Date in Celtics History: Kelly Olynyk was unforgettable in Game 7 in 2017

This Date in Celtics History: Kelly Olynyk was unforgettable in Game 7 in 2017

Even to this day I struggle to think of Giannis Antetokounmpo doing otherworldly things on the basketball court, and not think about Kelly Olynyk. 

When the Celtics traded up in the 2013 NBA Draft, I was convinced that this ridiculously athletic physical freak was Boston-bound because the Celtics, who had the 16th overall pick that year, knew he wasn’t going to get past then-Milwaukee Bucks GM John Hammond, who was sitting on pick No. 15. 

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So. when the Celtics swung a deal with the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 13 pick, I was convinced the man that they were eager to get was Antetokounmpo. 

I was wrong. 

And the Celtics were among the dozen or so NBA teams that totally whiffed on the future league MVP. 

But I’ll say this for Olynyk. 

While he certainly had his share of ups and downs in Boston, the 7-footer had one of the greatest moments in recent years by delivering the game of his life - in one of his final games as a Celtic -  in Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington. 

Olynyk didn’t just play well. 

He was on a level that we had never seen before, finishing with 26 points (He was averaging 7.8 points in the previous six games of the series) in helping lift Boston to the win and a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

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It was a franchise-altering performance on two fronts. 

The win took Boston deeper into the postseason than any Brad Stevens-coached team had ventured up to that point while sending the Wizards home for the season along with being the first domino to fall for a franchise that hasn’t come anywhere close to being as good as they were that season. 

Prior to Game 7, Olynyk’s most memorable moment in the series involved a hard screen he set in Game 3 of the series on Kelly Oubre Jr., who quickly rose to his feet and charged towards Olynyk, sparking a shoving match between both teams. 

But in Game 7, it was Olynyk delivering one basketball body shot after another.

Knowing he was coming up on restricted free agency, Olynyk gave the Celtics as good a parting gift as you can imagine. 

And after he signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Miami Heat, Olynyk took to Twitter to let the Celtics faithful know how much he enjoyed his time donning the Green and White. 

While with the Heat, Olynyk’s play hasn’t been nearly as good as it was on that memorable Game 7 against Washington.

However, you wouldn’t have known that by the career-high 32 points he dropped on the Celtics upon his return to the TD Garden that year. 

Still, Celtics fans are always going to have a soft spot for Olynyk because his play in Game 7 served as a reminder of how anything is possible when it comes to a star emerging for one night when needed. 

And while Olynyk has never played anywhere close to that level of play on a consistent basis since that Game 7, that’s OK.

Because for one night, May 15, 2017, the Celtics got the absolute best that Olynyk had to offer. 

And that was good enough to help elevate a strong Celtics franchise into what has been a model of consistency since then while leaving another still searching for an identity. 

This Date in Celtics History: Larry Bird, Rajon Rondo triple-doubles and young C's on rise

This Date in Celtics History: Larry Bird, Rajon Rondo triple-doubles and young C's on rise

This date in Celtics history offers a couple of triple-doubles and a pair of current young C's hitting their stride in under the playoff spotlight.

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The triple-doubles belong to Larry Bird in 1982 and Rajon Rondo in 2010. Eight years after Rondo's feat, Boston's up-and-coming duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown became the first teammates 21 or younger to score 24 or more points and shoot better than 50 percent in a playoff game.

Here's a look at each, via @BostonSportsInf:  

May 9, 1982: It all looked good for Larry Legend and the C's in a 40-point blowout of the rival Philadelphia 76ers in the opener of the Eastern Conference Finals. Bird's 24 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists lead a 121-81 rout at the Garden. 

But then...

The Celtics would go down three games to one to Philly as they had the year before but there was no comeback this time. Two weeks after Game 1, the Sixers would win a seventh game at the Garden and the "Beat L.A." chant was born. The 76ers didn't. Magic, Kareem and the Lakers won the title in six. 

May 9, 2010: Rondo joins some exclusive company with his 29-point, 18-rebound (yes, 18 for a 6-foot-1 point guard!), 13-assist performance as Boston ties the Eastern Conference semifinal series with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers at two with a 97-87 victory at the Garden.

The Celtics chase LeBron from Cleveland (the first time - remember, that was the summer of "The Decision") by winning the series in six. They also took care of the Orlando Magic in six in the East finals before falling to the Lakers in seven. 

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May 9, 2018: Behind 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting (53 percent) from Tatum and 24 on 10-for-13 (77 percent) from Brown, the C's close out the Sixers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis with a 114-112 win at the Garden. 

The young C's go on to the East finals where they get a Game 7 lesson from old LeBron at the Garden in another farewell performance against Boston for Cleveland.