Chris Forsberg

History, Gorman and a Finals berth: What to watch for Celtics over final week

Are the Maine Celtics paving the way for their NBA parent club?

NBC Universal, Inc.

The Boston Celtics enter the final week of the 2023-24 regular season with a 15-game lead over their nearest competitor in the Eastern Conference, the sort of gap the NBA hasn’t seen in over four decades.

Which means all the intrigue over the next seven days is with Boston's rivals and how spots 2-8 shake out in the East. The Bucks, who the Celtics visit on Tuesday night, are the only other team in the conference that has clinched a spot outside the play-in tournament (despite losing four straight). The four teams currently slotted in spots 3-6 are separated by 1.5 games.

The Celtics’ biggest curiosity lies in who lands in the 7-8 play-in spots, with Philadelphia and Miami currently in those positions. The loser of that 7-8 matchup will play the winner of the 9-10 play-in game between Chicago and Atlanta to decide who earns the No. 8 seed in the East and advances to play Boston in Round 1 of the playoffs.

Boston, having ensured the best record in basketball last week, will go at least 16 days without playing a game that truly matters. Even in this weekend's wins over Sacramento and Portland, the Celtics both rested veterans and leaned on lesser-used depth pieces while searching for ways to keep their foot on the gas without obvious motivation.

So what should Celtics fans be looking for over the final week of the regular season? Here are a handful of things we’ll have our eyes on:

A postseason dress rehearsal?

With the potential for nearly a full week off after Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Celtics must balance just how much they want to downshift this week. While veteran players will likely see plenty of rest over these four games, might there be at least one game where the Celtics trot out a playoff-like rotation and give that top group extended run?

The Bucks and Knicks both have seeding motivation, which might make one of those two games the ideal situation to go all out.

The Celtics turned in one of their biggest clunkers of the season in a visit to Milwaukee in January, though there was extenuating circumstances on the second night of a back-to-back coming off an emotional overtime win over the Timberwolves in Boston. Given their lead in the East, the Celtics might prefer to wait until Thursday’s visit from the Knicks to trot out their top six again.

Even if the Celtics elect to prioritize rest the entire week, they can feel confident in what they’ve seen from their starting five. The starting group of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick White, and Jrue Holiday has posted a +12.0 net rating in 606 minutes together. Boston is 28-8 in those 36 games.

That five-man lineup ranks third in net rating among all NBA pairings with at least 300 minutes, trailing only lineups from Milwaukee and Denver.

Chasing historical marks

The Celtics are on pace to finish the season with one of the five best point differentials in NBA history. In fact, Boston is wedged directly between two of the greatest teams in league history in the 1996 Bulls (+12.24) and the 2017 Warriors (+11.63) with a +11.65 point differential through 68 games.

Boston has outscored opponents by 909 points through 78 games. The 1972 Lakers top the NBA having outscored opponents by 1,007 points (12.28 per game).  If the Celtics had more motivation at the finish line, they might have made a push to join only three teams to finish +1,000 or better.

With 62 wins, the Celtics have now ensured themselves of having at least the sixth-best record in team history, with potential to nudge closer to some of the most revered squads in franchise history.

Only five teams have won 63+ games for the Celtics:

This year’s team can match the Banner 17-acquiring 2008 Celtics by running the table. But even simply getting to 64 wins would distinguish this year’s team. 

The 1986 and 2008 Celtics teams are particularly beloved here because of their championship finishes, which is a reminder that, despite all the regular-season success, this 2024 squad will ultimately be judged based on what comes next. Such are the benchmarks when 17 banners hang above your court.

These Celtics are also set to set a new NBA record, currently holding an offensive rating of 122.4 that is 2.4 points better than their nearest competitor (Indiana) and would shatter the previous record by nearly four points (2023 Kings, 118.6). 

Gorman's last ride

Maybe the most important part of the next few weeks: This is our last chance to hear the legend Mike Gorman on the call as he wraps up his 43rd and final season behind the mic.

Gorman will voice Boston’s final three regular-season games, then work local broadcasts for Round 1 of the postseason. As part of Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Wizards, Gorman will be celebrated by NBC Sports Boston and the team. Click HERE for more on Sunday’s festivities

Battle of the mind

Here’s Jaylen Brown detailing the challenges of the final week:

"It’s a battle of the mind … We already clinched. In a sense, we’ve done our job in the regular season. But now you prepare your minds for the moments where it’s going to matter most. You don’t want to relax, you don’t want to get complacent.

"Sometimes, even when you go out there, you have to pretend like it’s a playoff game and it’s not. And it’s just a battle of: How strong is your mind? Your focus? And that’s what we’re challenging ourselves with now.

"To see the second group go out there and be able to do what they’re doing and grow in those moments, and first group continue to be able to stay locked into every possession, that’s just going to help us down the line as a team."

Celtics already in Finals .. of the G-League

The Maine Celtics punched their ticket to the G-League Finals on Sunday night and will host Oklahoma City to start a best-of-three series on Tuesday night in Portland.

Boston's G-League entry, helmed by first-year coach Blaine Mueller, features Celtics rookie Jordan Walsh and two-way players Neemias Queta and J.D. Davison, along with DJ Steward and Drew Peterson.

Game 2 is Friday in Oklahoma City and a potential winner-take-all Game 3 would be back at the Portland Expo on Monday night.

G-League alum Luke Kornet showed up to Sunday’s game wearing a Maine jersey, while teammates emphatically cheered the television as Maine closed out Sunday’s win against Long Island.

The 15th spot?

The Celtics still have one available roster spot with the potential to add a player who could latch on for the postseason ride.

It’s unlikely that player would ever factor into Boston’s playoff run, but it could be a way to get a developmental talent in the mix and let them savor the postseason journey.

Contact Us