Forsberg: The prickly path was the right path for Celtics


The Boston Celtics made the right decision to push for the No. 2 seed during Sunday night’s regular-season finale in Memphis.

Boston has been the best team in basketball for the past three months and there was no need to game the system in hopes of avoiding a potential prickly first-round matchup against a Brooklyn Nets team with the 20th ranked defense in the NBA.

Defying the basketball gods can deliver the sort of bad mojo that not even Kyrie Irving’s sage can eradicate. It’s the rest of the NBA that should have been scrambling to avoid the Celtics based on their second-half play.

Here's what finishing second in East means for Celtics in postseason

The Celtics went 28-7 over their final 35 games. They owned the best offensive, defensive, and net rating in the league over that span. Boston outscored opponents by 525 points over that span. They created an even bigger gulf between the nearest rival with Sunday’s thumping of the Grizzlies, who are second in plus/minus since Jan. 23 at plus-295.

Look, we understand the consternation. No. 2 seeds don’t normally have to worry about not having the best player on the court in a first-round series. Kevin Durant will make this series tougher than most quarterfinal matchups. And the presence of Irving adds a whole ’nutha logo-stomping sidebar to the festivities. There would have been a whole lot less headaches having to play sixth-seeded Chicago and maybe even fifth-seeded Toronto.

But we’re already getting ahead of ourselves. The Nets still need to win a play-in matchup against the Cavaliers on Tuesday night just to set up that first-round showdown. Cleveland took an injury-induced nosedive in the second half of the season but they’re still frisky enough to push the Nets in a single-game battle.

The pain points of a potential Brooklyn matchup are still greatly outweighed by the positives gained by shimmying up past a Bucks team that downshifted at the finish line. The Celtics would have homecourt advantage in a potential second-round series against Milwaukee.

Yes, a potential Brooklyn-Milwaukee-Miami path to the NBA Finals is less than ideal. But all those teams will be less than thrilled to see Boston on the other side, too.

The Celtics certainly could have downshifted Sunday, but it would have left some of the team’s key pieces with limited game action over as much as a 10-day span. A Celtics-Nets matchup seems destined to find itself tipping with an Easter Sunday spotlight on April 17.

But instead of leaving their fate to how the Sixers (sans Joel Embiid and James Harden) fared against the Detroit Pistons, Boston just put its foot on the gas in Memphis and cruised to the finish line of the season.

Jayson Tatum was fantastic, making one last case for All-NBA First Team consideration with 31 points on 14 shots over 26 minutes. Al Horford has found his shot since Valentine’s Day, Derrick White -- acquired right around the same point -- might be finding his, too.

The Celtics would probably feel better if Robert Williams was healthy and on the court to start the postseason. The team is bullish on his potential to return on the early side of his 4-6 week timeline, maybe even opening the door for a late first-round return if the team struggled without him.

The Nets have talent but have rarely shown themselves capable of being a legitimate contender. The Celtics should still be the better team based on their play the past 12 weeks while surging from the 11th spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics showed faith in this team by going for it on Sunday. The basketball gods should take notice and we’ll see if they’re rewarded when the playoffs tip.

And, remember, the Celtics have rarely taken the easy path this season.

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