Boston Celtics

2024 NBA playoff simulation: Celtics' title quest has dramatic ending

Strat-O-Matic predicts Boston's postseason culminating in an instant classic.

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The Boston Celtics' 2024 NBA playoff journey officially begins Sunday afternoon, and they already know their mission.

It's championship or bust for the 2023-24 Celtics, who enter this postseason as the NBA's No. 1 overall seed and the odds-on title favorite after a historic 64-win regular season.

But as Boston co-stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are well aware, the NBA playoffs are no cakewalk. The Celtics' first-round matchup is against the Miami Heat, who upset them as the eighth seed last spring in the 2023 Eastern Conference Finals.

And even if the C's emerge from the East, a very talented club could await them in the NBA Finals -- among them the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who swept their 2023-24 season series with Boston.

So, how will the quest for Banner 18 play out? We asked our partners at Strat-O-Matic -- whose simulation software correctly predicted the Celtics' exact 2023-24 record back in October -- to forecast the entire 2024 postseason and play out each of Boston's series.

Let's get to the results, starting with Strat-O-Matic's simulation of the East playoff bracket.

First Round: No. 1 Celtics defeat No. 8 Miami Heat, 4-2

As expected, the Celtics have their hands full with Miami in Round 1. Despite playing without Jimmy Butler, the Heat claw their way to wins in Games 2 and 3 behind strong efforts from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro to take a 2-1 series lead.

But that's when Boston flips the script. Newcomer Jrue Holiday goes off for 40 points to help the Celtics steal Game 4 in Miami, then Tatum and Brown drop 33 apiece in a rousing Game 5 victory at TD Garden. The C's carry that momentum to South Beach, where they take care of business in Game 6 to exorcise their 2023 demons and advance to Round 2.

Second Round: No. 1 Celtics defeat No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers, 4-1

The Cavs dispatch the Orlando Magic in Round 1, only to run into a Boston buzzsaw in Round 2.

The Celtics win Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 34 points, with Tatum (32 points), Brown (22 points) and Porzingis (22 points) all showing out in Game 1. Donovan Mitchell's 43-point outburst helps the Cavs steal Game 3 in Cleveland, but Tatum responds with a 49-point masterpiece on the road in Game 4 to squash any hopes of a Cleveland comeback.

Tatum adds 41 more points in the decisive Game 5 to average 33.4 points per game in the series.

East Finals: No. 1 Celtics defeat No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers, 4-3

We've got ourselves a series, folks.

After knocking off the No. 2 seed New York Knicks and No. 3 seed Milwaukee Bucks, the "underdog" Sixers stun the Celtics in a Game 1 win and take a 2-1 series lead thanks to Joel Embiid's double-double (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Kelly Oubre's 25 points in Game 3.

But Tatum rises to the occasion again in Game 4, racking up 43 points and 15 rebounds in a crucial road win. From there, the Celtics lean on homecourt advantage: Brown's 38 points help Boston win Game 5 at TD Garden, while Tatum (37 points) and Holiday (33 points) step up late in Game 7 to fend off Philly for the second time in as many postseasons.

That sets up a showdown with the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who roll through the Western Conference as the No. 2 seed in Strat-O-Matic's simulation. Here's a look at the West bracket, followed by the results of an instant classic Celtics-Nuggets NBA Finals:

NBA Finals: No. 1 Celtics defeat No. 2 Denver Nuggets, 4-3

Boston's situation looks bleak early on in this battle of NBA heavyweights. Jamal Murray's 33 points lead the Nuggets to a Game 1 victory, and the West champions win both games in Denver to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.

But this year's Celtics squad will not be denied.

The trio of Brown (31 points), Tatum (26 points) and Holiday (26 points) step up in Game 5 to stave off elimination, then Tatum delivers another iconic performance with 49 points on the road in a Game 6 victory.

That sets the stage for an all-time classic in Game 7: The Celtics trail by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter before storming back down the stretch, yet still are down by two points with 35 seconds remaining. On Boston's final possession, Tatum plays the hero, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining. The Celtics get one more stop to secure a 121-120 victory, earning their 18th championship and first since 2008.

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