It’s clear the Boston Celtics didn’t go all out Thursday night in their matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks. Technically, there was a lot on the line. Had the Celtics posted the win on the road, they would have locked up the No. 2 seed for the Eastern Conference playoff run.
Instead, they sat three-time All-Star Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. Boston was on the second leg of a back-to-back after having won in Chicago the previous night. Despite being short-handed, the Celtics made a game of it against the Bucks, falling 127-121. Although they came out on the short end, it just may be the best for the Celtics.
The Boston Celtics have been red-hot since January
Even when the red-hot Celtics try to lose, it’s difficult. OK, maybe they weren’t actually trying to lose, but the Celtics were extremely short-handed twice in the last 10 days and nearly pulled off miracles.
At Toronto on March 28, in the second game of a back-to-back, the Celtics traveled without Tatum, Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Robert Williams, who injured himself in the previous game. Despite the patchwork lineup, the Celtics took the Raptors to overtime, where they fell 115-112.
On Thursday, the Celtics led late against the Bucks, who are battling the Celtics for that second seed. Without Tatum and Horford, the Celtics nearly pulled off the upset.
Losing has been tough to come by for the Celtics in 2022. After a rough start to the 2021-22 NBA season, things have settled in nicely for Boston.
Through the first 50 games of this season, the Celtics were wildly underachieving at 25-25 under first-year head coach Ime Udoka. Since then, they have gone 25-6, including those two short-handed losses.
Losing to the Milwaukee Bucks may have been a win for the Boston Celtics
Playoff position is in full swing, and there is a logjam near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Heading into Thursday night’s matchup with the Bucks, the Celtics controlled their destiny as far as the No. 2 seed was concerned. Beat the Bucks, and the second seed is theirs.
With the Celtics, Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers all positioned to fight for that No. 2 slot, the Bucks took control with the win over the C’s.
That loss is anything but troublesome for the Celtics. In fact, it just may have helped them.
With two days left in the regular season, the playoff picture gets a bit clearer each day. If the Celtics remain out of the second spot, they’ll avoid the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. The Nets are getting hot at the right time, and with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant on the court at the same time, they can be a dangerous team. Brooklyn can’t finish any higher than the seventh seed, a spot that matches up with the No. 2 seed.
If the playoffs began today, the Celtics would be matched up with the Chicago Bulls, a team that lost its point guard Lonzo Ball to a torn meniscus. He’s been ruled out for the season. The Celtics rolled to a 117-94 win in Chicago on Wednesday. The Bulls are locked into the sixth spot.
Avoiding the Nets in Round 1 is beneficial. The Nets are certainly beatable, but they are also more dangerous than the Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Raptors. Should the Celtics win their first series, there’s a chance they could have Williams back in action.
The Celtics are playing their best basketball at the right time
Some may have thought the Celtics peaked too soon when they rattled off nine straight wins right before All-Star Weekend. The streak ended with a 112-111 loss at home to the Detroit Pistons in the final game before the break. They came back from the hiatus and won 13 of 15 games and haven’t slowed down.
Udoka said the plan has been simple, and they have stuck to it.
“It’s a pretty simple formula,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said after cruising past the Bulls on Wednesday, per ESPN. “Play defense at an elite level. Share the ball, be unselfish on offense. And the results are there.”
Against the Bucks, with three starters out, Jaylen Brown stepped up with a triple-double, going for 22 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.
It was a huge effort from Brown, but not enough. And that may be a good thing for the Celtics.