The playoff race in the East is close. From the 6, 7, 8, and 9 seed at the bottom to the 4 and 5 seeds to the 1 and 2 seeds, everyone has something they’re fighting for.
The Celtics are right in the middle of the mess in the East, fighting their own battle. Fighting with the Indiana Pacers for home court advantage. Boston currently slots in at the 5 seed in the east, but hope to move up from 4 to 5 on Friday when the Indiana Pacers come to town. The Pacers, who lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night 107-99, hold onto a slim 1 game lead over the Celtics in the standings. If the Celtics were to win on Friday, they’d move into the 4th seed in the East, winning the tiebreaker over Indiana, and grabbing home-court advantage for themselves.
One might say, “Why does it matter whether the Celtics have the 4 or the 5 seed?” It’s easy. I’ve already mentioned it a couple of times. Home court advantage. Boston absolutely needs home court advantage over the Indiana Pacers in the 1st round of the playoffs. Why? Well, for starters, the last time a team made it to the NBA Finals without having home court advantage in any of their Playoff series’s was the 1998-99, 8 seeded, New York Knicks. Jumping into the numbers though, we can see, like most teams, the Celtics are a much better home team than they are a road team. When playing on the road the Celtics post a 110.5 offensive rating, down from their 112.2 offensive rating at home, a 108.7 defensive rating, down from a 105.3 defensive rating at home, and an overall net rating of 1.8, which is of course down from their near 7.0 net rating at home. It only gets worse when you look at the home/road record split for the Celtics. Posting a 26-12 record at home, the Celtics can’t seem to get it together when on the road, as they have been able to grab only a below 500 record of 18-19. All these numbers are great, but the eye test will do when discussing the Celtics problems. They’re visibly worse on the road. The team lacks effort, lacks IQ, lacks communication, and most of all lacks focus. It’s all plain and evident. All the hero ball, 1 pass possessions, all the defensive breakdowns, all the missed shots, this team just cannot get any sort of a rhythm on the road. This is why the Celtics shouldn’t be satisfied with the position they’re in.
Getting that 4 seed does matter. It may not matter down the line, say when you go and face Milwaukee or Toronto, but it certainly matters in the 1st round. You want to start off the playoffs at home. Going on the road for the first 2 games, in a tough environment like Indiana, having to split one of those games, potentially having to close out a series in that environment, and potentially having to play a game 7 there, none of that is ideal. To add onto that: Indiana is a good team. We’re not talking about some blow over 8 seed. Since Victor Oladipo suffered a season-ending injury to his leg, Indiana has found themselves. Bojan Bogdanović has looked like an All-Star, Wesley Matthews has added a nice spark to their team, they play great defense, share the ball on offense, and they know who they are. Maybe Boston finds a spark in the 1st round and takes down this Indiana team with ease, but for now, I don’t see it.
The Pacers are going to battle with the Celtics. Whoever has home court in this Celtics-Pacers series, which I forgot to mention will nearly 100% happen, will have the advantage and that’s why these next two weeks will be crucial for the Celtics. Playing the Pacers twice, the Celtics have a real chance to lock up the 4 seed and home-court advantage in the 1st round. Whether they take the opportunity and run with it is still unknown. Tonight’s Celtics-Pacers matchup in Boston should be very telling on where the two teams will be heading come playoff time.
By: Seamus Zarlingo