Miami held off Cleveland on Monday night, swinging the Eastern Conference back into the Celtics control. Boston closes out the season with Milwaukee in what is a huge game for both teams with the playoffs looming.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 114-105 in the same fashion we’ve seen far too many times this season. The Celtics built a huge lead, as much as 27, and then saw it dip into single digits multiple times in the fourth quarter, ultimately pulling the game out, but continuing to show question marks with their ability to play a complete game.
I’m not sure how optimistically we should react to the fact that the Celtics are now first in the Eastern Conference with one game to play despite having such a severe fault. Cleveland decided to sit LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson in Miami but still forced overtime before falling. With the loss, Boston grabs sole possession of the East and control their own fate. If they defeat Milwaukee in the season finale, the Celtics will have home court advantage through at least the Eastern Conference Finals. For the first time in six years, Boston controls the Atlantic Division.
The players know how crucial of a situation they’re in, and they need to step up and make shots against Milwaukee’s length. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each showed positive signs in Monday’s win, Bradley finished with 18 points on 7-10 (3-5 3PT) shooting while Crowder went an efficient 4-6 (3-4 3PT) and ended up with 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The Celtics offense is wide open when Isaiah Thomas has his spot up players knocking down shots, and that’s exactly how Boston needs to stretch out the Bucks defense so they can create driving lanes for IT.
Thomas added 27 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists over 30 minutes during the victory over the Nets. He was a team-high +16 and has been the only sure threat in Boston’s offense all season. With Crowder on half a leg and Bradley sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Atlanta collapsed on IT in the playoffs last season. His efficiency and playmaking ability should be on further display with healthy shooters and Al Horford around him.
The Bucks have been rather inconsistent down the stretch as they’ve won three of their last five games. They lost three straight before defeating Philadelphia and Charlotte. The Celtics will be looking for a little revenge after Milwaukee dispatched them 103-100 on Mar. 30.
Boston can not only clinch first in the East on Wednesday, but they can also continue building their playoff momentum. The Celtics fell apart in losses to Cleveland and Atlanta last week but regrouped with wins over Charlotte and Brooklyn, despite almost fumbling away both. This game is an opportunity to end the regular season on a good night while also entering the playoffs as the top seed in the East for the first time since 2008. Remember what happened then?