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If The Celtics Truly Want The #1 Seed, It Will Require Nothing Short Of Perfection

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Once you get to this point in the NBA calendar, one debate you hear a lot is what means more, seeding or health?

For some, maybe they are in a position where their seeding can't really change, so in that regard, health is more important. But what if you're in the middle of a race that could drastically change your potential playoff path? Does that change how you think/approach games? We saw what the Sixers just decided to do with Joel Embiid, but they certainly aren't alone. The Bucks rested their two best players against the Pistons last night, Tatum sat against the Spurs, etc. If you can find a rest day, I suppose you take it.

When it comes to the Celts, they've made it as clear as you could possibly make it that they want the #1 seed

We saw last year what happened when the Bucks decided to choose health over seeding, it ended up costing them their season. They wanted to dodge the Nets so they sat everyone in their last game, which ultimately led to this happening

I am someone who believes you do not fuck with the Basketball Gods when it comes to this stuff. If you think you're good enough to win the title, your path shouldn't matter. Trying to manipulate things for an easier path usually doesn't work out. Guess what, if you want to reach the top of the mountain, you're going to have to beat good teams to do it.

So while part of me is a little annoyed that the Celts so clearly want the 1 seed yet decide to not really play focused basketball against some dogshit teams as of late, unfortunately, they do not control their own destiny. To pass MIL, they need help.

As things stand entering tonight's games, here's where things are in the East

It basically comes down to this. Not only do the Celts need to win tonight vs WSH and then again on Thursday vs MIL, they need the Bucks to lose at least 2 games from this slate

IND/BOS/PHI/WSH/CHI/MEM/TOR

if they even want a chance to regain that top spot. Personally, I think it's a bit of a stretch to assume you'll get more than 2 losses from MIL, so that alone means the Celts cannot lose another game the rest of the year. They legitimately have to be perfect. A win Thursday gives them the H2H tiebreaker, but they need to make up that 2nd loss. From there, all you need to do is match whatever MIL does the rest of the way and you pass them.

Of course, there are things that might factor in here that the Celts can't control. Let's say PHI wants to get out of BOS's side of the bracket because they feel like they match up better with MIL (2-1 vs 0-3). It's certainly possible they rest guys vs MIL on Sunday and then play their guys vs BOS on Tuesday. Maybe they don't mind sliding into the 4 spot if it means they get MIL. 

With a 3 game lead over PHI (and the tiebreaker), I think everything we see the Celts do comes down to Thursday. If they lose that game, the 1 seed it out and there is still enough of a cushion for the 3 seed where I think you'll see them go the "be healthy" route. I don't think you can play the seeding game with so much still up in the air both in the 3/4 seeds and the Play In group, so for now, you win as many games as you can while that 1 seed is still alive. You do not do what the Sixers just did last night which basically killed their chances at moving up into the 2 spot. 

I think given what this team went through last season, they understand that it's not really about who you play. As long as the Celts are the best versions of themselves, they can beat anyone in the league, either at home or on the road. This group has won elimination games on the road before, including a Game 7 in the ECF. Shit, steal one of the first two games in a potential ECF where you're the lower seed and Game 7 doesn't even matter as long as you protect your own court.

After leading the conference for 80% of the season, the Celts are in this spot through no fault of their own. That's the reality. Blowing those three straight games in early March, all of which you had a big lead, dropping the HOU/UTA games on their recent 6 game West Coast trip, all that stuff is proving to be pretty significant right now if they truly care about the #1 seed, which it's clear they do.

Should they not get it, that doesn't mean it's the end of the world. Healthy, this team is as much of a contender as anyone else. That's what makes Thursday such a huge game, because it'll basically tell us what the Celts plan will be. Ending the season on a 10 game winning streak seems like a bit of a stretch, but that's what the math says it's going to take. You can't bank on the Bucks losing games, considering that's not exactly something they've done recently

Given how their season ended last year, my guess is they will not be choosing "health" over "seeding" again this time around. That means if the Celts want that top spot, they're going to have to take it.