After last night's loss to the Blazers, it was almost like the Celtics knew that I would be writing about seeding this week because it became one of the main topics in the postgame media scrum. About a month and a half ago, Kyrie Irving stated that he wasn't content with being the 5th seed and that he wanted the team to fight for better seeding. Recently, however, Kyrie's tune has changed a bit. He's started to come out with quotes such as "nobody can beat us in a 7 game series if we play how we're supposed to" and other statements that indicate that he isn't worried about where the Celtics are seeded or who they play. Last night, Al Horford reinforced the idea that seeding doesn't matter as much as quality play does to the Celtics right now by stating "There's nothing if we end up playing like this and we're the 3rd seed. I'd rather be playing really good basketball." After a four game losing streak and losses in six of their last eight, I think many of us fans would agree that stringing together a few good games and finding a groove is more important to the Celtics right now than where they end up in the playoff seeding. With that being said, however, where should we want the Celtics to end up? Is the 3rd seed really all that different than the 4th? Is the 5th seed a nightmare scenario? It's really a matter of opinion, and I lay out mine here:
Worst-Case Scenario: Current Standings (Indy 3rd, Philly 4th, Boston 5th)
If the season ended today, the Celtics would be the 5th seed and would have to face the Sixers in a first round series in which they wouldn't have home-court advantage. I think we can all agree that is the worst case scenario for this team. Although the Celtics have had the Sixers number for the last several years, having to start the playoffs off with a dogfight like that would likely take a toll on them. Even if the Celtics could steal a game or two in Philadelphia and win in 6 or 7 games, the physical toll of winning a hatred-fueled series like that could hurt them in the second round and beyond. John Karalis of MassLive and the Locked on Celtics Podcast said in their last episode that even if the Celtics had to play all seven games of a playoff series against the Sixers in Philadelphia, he'd still take the Celtics. I think that type of confidence is probably something many of us Celtics fans have when it comes to this rivalry, however, as much as Philadelphia doesn't scare me, I'd rather not face them right off the bat. Just imagine the trolling we'd have to take all offseason from Philly fans if we got knocked out by them in the first round. While the opportunity to troll them for the same thing would be sweet, I'd rather not have that risk of it going the other way.
2nd-Best Scenario: Boston 3rd, Philly/Indiana 4th and 5th
This one really comes down to whether you would rather Boston be the 3rd or 4th seed. Essentially, that decision boils down to whether you would rather play Toronto or Milwaukee in the second round. If you'd rather the Celtics play Toronto in the second round (assuming the Raptors finish as the 2nd seed), then you want them to be the 3rd seed. If you would rather the Celtics play the Bucks in the second round (assuming the Bucks finish 1st), then you want them to be the 4th seed. In my opinion, I think the Celtics have a better shot at beating the Bucks in a seven game series than the Raptors, and I thought that well before the other night's beatdown that the Celtics took at the hand of the Raptors. In last year's playoffs, the Celtics proved to have trouble winning on the road, and in Brad Stevens' 6 year NBA career his team's are 1-11 on the road in Toronto with the one win coming in overtime four years ago. For comparison, the Celtics are 5-5 in Milwaukee during Brad Stevens' tenure. When the Celtics nearly beat the Bucks in their own building the other night without Hayward or Baynes, it sort of solidified my belief that the Bucks are who I want if the Celtics end up in the second round like we expect.
Best-Case Scenario: Philadelphia 3rd, Boston 4th, Indiana 5th
While this scenario forces the Celtics to take on Indiana instead of a team like Brooklyn in the first round, I think it is perfect for the Celtics. The Pacers and Celtics have split their two meetings this year with the Pacers winning the first meeting in Indiana thanks to a Victor Oladipo game winner, and the Celtics blowing Indiana out of the building in the second meeting in what was arguably the Celtics best wire-to-wire win of the year. Since those meetings, the Pacers have lost Oladipo, but haven't lost steam in the standings. I tend to think that water will find it's level, and the Pacers will come back down to earth and to the lower half of the East standings. With two more meetings left between these two, the Celtics would have a chance to send a message both at home and on the road that the Pacers wouldn't stand a chance against them in a series and could leave them spiritually defeated before a playoff matchup ever happened. Even if the seeding was reversed in this scenario and the Pacers were the 4 seed, I don't have any worries about Boston having to steal a couple games in Indiana. Lastly, to be honest, I think a hot young Brooklyn Nets team scares me a little more than the Oladipo-less Pacers in a first round series. I could see a scenario where the Nets start a series off with a win in Boston and the NBA community loses their collective shit like they did when the Bulls stole the first two games in Boston a few years ago.
The other thing I like about this scenario is that Boston would play Milwaukee instead of Toronto in the second round. No matter how great Milwaukee has been all season, they still haven't won a playoff series with this team yet and the drop-offs between Giannis and Middleton and Middleton to the next guy are big enough not to worry me as much Toronto. One thing we've started to see from Siakam this year is that even when Kawhi isn't on the floor and Lowry isn't playing at an elite level, he has the capability to be play like the best player on the court. While Middleton is an all-star and deserves some respect on his name, I don't see that capability as much from him. For a team like the Celtics who have been dying for someone to prove that they can step up like that behind Kyrie; facing a team who already has a guy like that in Toronto isn't ideal. When I assess the other teams in the East, I see Milwaukee as a team with good depth but not much top-end talent past Giannis. I see Philadelphia as a team with all the top-end talent you could ask for but zero depth. Toronto is the one other team who I think can match Boston with a combination of both top-end talent and depth. Hopefully, guys like Tatum, Hayward, and maybe even Brown can step up and play at that level in this year's playoffs so that the Celtics' top-end talent is as much of a strength as their depth.
With all of that being said, what do you all want the East seeding to look like at the end of the year? Who are the teams that you're most and least scared of in the playoffs? Let us know on Twitter @GuyBostonSports