Celtics' most likely first-round playoff opponents coming into focus


For the eighth consecutive season and the 14th time in the last 15 years, the Boston Celtics are playoff-bound.

The Celtics clinched a spot in the 2022 NBA playoffs Thursday night after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Atlanta Hawks. As of Friday morning, Boston owns the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference at 47-30 and sits two games back of the first-place Miami Heat with five games remaining in its regular season.

Catching the Heat for the No. 1 seed might be a tall task, and the No. 2 seed Milwaukee Bucks (1.5 games ahead of Boston) are rolling as well with wins in three of their last four games.

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The Celtics' odds are reflected in Basketball Reference's Playoff Probabilities Report, which uses 10,000 simulations for the rest of the season to determine the most likely seeding in the East.

Here's a look at Boston's percent chances of earning each seed, per BR.

  • No. 1 seed: 9.0%
  • No. 2 seed: 24.6%
  • No. 3 seed: 41.3%
  • No. 4 seed: 18.1%
  • No. 5 seed: 6.2%
  • No. 6 seed: 0.8%

The C's are most likely to finish in the No. 3 spot, where they'd face the No. 6 seed in Round 1.

If the Celtics land the No. 3 seed, they'll have almost a 90% chance of playing either the Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors. BR has the Bulls at 51% to earn the No. 6 seed and the Raptors at 38.5% to finish sixth.

Boston can't take any first-round series lightly with Robert Williams sidelined due to a torn meniscus, but it probably wouldn't hate either scenario here. Chicago is 6-11 since Feb. 26 and is 2-17 against teams with a .600 winning percentage or better. Toronto nearly lost to a Boston team missing Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford on Monday and dropped its previous two games to the C's this season.

Ime Udoka's club could shuffle up to No. 2 or drop to No. 4. If they slide into the 4-5 matchup, they'd still most likely play either the Bulls (41.9% chance to finish fifth) or Raptors (34.2% chance).

If the Celtics jump up to the No. 2 seed, they'd draw the winner of the play-in tournament between the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds. BR has the Cleveland Cavaliers as the favorites to take the No. 7 seed (43.5%), but the Brooklyn Nets loom at 19.8%.

So, if the Time Lord-less C's want to no chance of facing Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets in the first round, then the No. 3 or No. 4 seed is the sweet spot, with the Bulls and Raptors by far their most likely opponents.

One more wild card? The free-falling Philadelphia 76ers, who dropped to fourth in the East after their third straight loss and potentially could land in a 4-5 matchup with Boston if they keep losing.

There's still plenty to figure out between now and April 10, but if you had to bet on the Celtics' playoff opponent, Chicago and Toronto are your two best options as of Friday.

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