The Boston Celtics went to the NBA Finals as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference last season, and based on how the standings are shaping up, they may need to repeat that performance if they want to win their first title since 2008. Let Derrick White tell it, that's fine with them. They don't care about the No. 1 seed anyway.
"If we get the one seed it's cool, if we don't then it's the same," White said after practice on Thursday. "We didn't have it last year. We just want to be playing the best basketball going into the playoffs. Whether we're one, two three, it doesn't really matter."
The bigger problem for the Celtics is that they have not been playing their best basketball as of late. Though they did close out their West Coast road trip with an impressive win over the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, they are just 9-6 since the All-Star break. During that span, they've blown a number of double-digit leads, including a 28-point collapse against the Brooklyn Nets, and rank ninth and 12th, respectively, in offensive and defensive rating.
As a result of their middling play, the Celtics now find themselves in second place in the East, and 2.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who have won 23 of their last 26 games. There's one game remaining between the two teams that will decide the season series and tiebreaker, so the Celtics do have a glimmer of hope, but catching the Bucks at this point will be a major challenge. The closer race is actually between the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 2 spot; the Celtics have a half-game lead and the tiebreaker.
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Speaking of the Bucks, White's comments are a stark contrast to what Grayson Allen had to say on Wednesday about Milwaukee's goals"
"I think we want it. I think we want the one seed," Allen said. "I think, like even after All-Star Break, it's been super close between really the top three teams in the East. So, it's not something we obsess about. We're not like checking it every day, every game, but I think we're definitely aware of it. And I know as a group, I know we want the one seed."
Last season, the Celtics had homecourt advantage for the second-round matchup between themselves and the Bucks, and it paid off with a 28-point Game 7 win. It's worth noting, though, that the Celtics had to go to Milwaukee and win Game 6 just to force that deciding game, and both teams won multiple road games during the series. Furthermore, the Celtics won Games 5 and 7 on the road against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season.
All of which is to say that seeding and homecourt advantage matter, but only to an extent. It's more important to be healthy and playing your best basketball. The Celtics are nudging closer to the former now that Robert Williams III has returned to action, but whether they can recover the form they showed at the beginning of the season remains to be seen. If they can, then White will be proven correct.