Six days ago, LeBron James and the Cavs visited TD Garden for a first-place showdown with the Celtics. The stakes seemed high: The winner would have the inside track for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with the loser likely settling for second.
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But a funny thing happened after the 114-91 shellacking that the Cavs handed the C's on. The Cavaliers lost to the Hawks 'B' team at the Q, then blew a 26-point fourth quarter lead to lose another game in Atlanta, then lost a second straight overtime game to the Heat. That put the C's back in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed heading into the final game of the regular season.
Would that top seed guarantee anything beyond a first-round matchup with the No. 8 seed? Of course not. But anything is possible -- just ask Kevin Garnett.
Since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 1984, the Celtics have earned the No. 1 seed six times, and they've reached the Finals in five of those instances, winning titles in 1984, 1986 and 2008:
Earning that top seed hasn't meant very much recently, thanks in part to the man who has repeatedly said seeding doesn't mean squat. LeBron James has made six straight trips to the Finals, and his team has been the top seed in just two of those seasons. Overall in the Eastern Conference, only 3 of the last 14 top seeds have reached the Finals -- the 2008 Celtics, the 2013 Heat and the 2016 Cavs:
Need more proof that seeding doesn't mean a whole lot once the playoffs start? You've come to the right place. The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference will finish this season with either 52 or 53 wins. You have to go all the way back to the 2007 Pistons to find a top seed with a win total that low (in a non-lockout season).
So with no dominant team in the East, maybe the most dominant player in the conference will book a ticket for the Finals for a seventh straight season. Or maybe the luck of the Irish will be with the Celtics. After all, it's all about the team that ends the postseason as No. 1, not the team that starts that way.