4th Seed? 5th Seed? Celtics have tough – but doable – path in NBA playoffs

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BOSTON -- Barring an apocalyptic collapse on the Philadelphia 76ers’ part, this Boston-Indiana first round matchup in the fourth-vs.-fifth seed playoff series is all but a lock now.

But as we know, seeding — while important — is not a major concern of the Boston Celtics right now.

It’s all about getting to the playoffs healthy and making a deep postseason journey, right?

Because regardless of whether Boston starts the playoffs at home or on the road, they have put themselves on a path that few have navigated out of successfully in recent years.

Taking a look at the last 10 years in the East, the winner of the No. 4 versus No. 5 series has been a bit of a toss-up with the No. 4 seed posting a 6-4 record.

The No. 4 versus No. 5 seeds out West have been decisively lopsided  the last 10 years, with the No. 5 seed stealing home-court advantage and ultimately winning the series nine times.

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From there, it gets painfully bleak for the winner of the No. 4 versus No. 5 matchup to go any further.

In the last 10 years, the winner in the East has been eliminated in the second round seven times.

Out West, the second round has been the end of the road for the No. 4 versus No. 5 winner in eight of the last 10 years.

But for those holding out hope that the Celtics’ postseason run will add a new twist to the 4-5 narrative, there’s this: Of the three times in the last 10 years that the No. 4 versus No. 5 winner got past the second of the playoffs, twice the feat has been accomplished by the Boston Celtics.

In 2012, Boston got to the Conference Finals with a chance to advance after taking a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat with Game 6 at the TD Garden.

However, LeBron James delivered a game for the ages, tallying a double-double of 45 points and 15 rebounds in leading Miami to a shocking 98-79 victory, which was followed up by a series-clinching 101-88 win in Miami.

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But before that in 2010, the Celtics made a miraculous run to the NBA Finals after what had been an injury-riddled regular season.

This current Celtics team thinks they have doubters?

Even the most die-hard Celtics fan had every reason to doubt that the 2010 team would go far, especially after they limped into the playoffs with losses in four of their last six games.

However, those late-season losses provided some much-needed rest for the team's veterans, who “flipped the switch” in the playoffs as the fourth seed in convincing fashion by jumping out to 3-0 series leads in two of their first three playoff series.

And they seemed on the verge of bringing home Banner 18 after taking a 3-2 series lead against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

However, things fell apart for Boston in Game 6 after Kendrick Perkins’ knee injury, which ended his season and as it turned out, any hopes of Boston closing out the series that night.

Boston regrouped and played with the lead for most of Game 7, but a 10-4 run in the fourth quarter put the Lakers on top.

Once they got the lead, they would not relinquish it as they held off the Celtics for an 83-79 series-clinching victory for their 16th NBA title — one behind the Celtics.

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The only other time in the last 10 years that a fourth or fifth seed went that deep into the playoffs occurred last year when the LeBron James-led Cavaliers, the fourth seed in the East, advanced to the NBA Finals where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors.

So for Boston to have the kind of postseason journey that they have envisioned for themselves, they certainly haven’t done themselves any favors with their play this season.

But as we know, the playoffs present an opportunity for many teams and players to make amends for their basketball sins (not playing with great effort, playing down to the competition, etc.) committed during the regular season.

Which is why the Celtics, despite a season that thus far has not gone quite as planned, recognize the goals they set out to accomplish this season are still very much within their reach.

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