In all likelihood, the Pacers will have to top the Celtics on Friday in order to clinch the final homecourt spot in the East. Both teams enter the final installment of the regular season series with identical records at 47-32, but Boston already has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage.
If the Celtics win the critical match-up... They’ll secure the tiebreaker and take a full-game lead over Indiana with only two games remaining on the schedule, which means the Pacers would no longer control their destiny for the 4-seed. At that point, in order to swap places with Boston, they would have to win out against Brooklyn and Atlanta while also getting assists from both Orlando and Washington in games against the Celtics.
On the flip side, in the event of a hypothetical Pacers’ win...They’ll likewise take a full-game lead, but they won’t be completely out of the woods. With the season series knotted at 2-2 and the two teams tied in terms of conference record, Boston could still nab the tiebreaker along with homecourt advantage, if they finish 2-0 with Indiana tripping up against either the Nets or Hawks.
To that point, unless a head-to-head loss tomorrow night prompts the Celtics to cede the 4-spot for rest, this thing could end up going down to the wire. Brooklyn is still fighting it out with Detroit, Orlando, and Miami for the bottom three seeds in the East, and Atlanta’s semi-transition offense fueled by Trae Young’s passing wizardry gave the Pacers fits to such a degree in the last meeting that they had to counter with blitzing traps coming out of halftime.
All of which means that the difference between opening the playoffs at home or on the road could very well turn out to be either Kyrie’s go-ahead lay-up or Victor Oladipo’s game-winning three.
How things currently stand...
If the playoffs started today...
(4) Boston Celtics (47-32) vs. (5) Indiana Pacers (47-32)
(2) Toronto Raptors (56-23) vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets (39-40)
(3) Philadelphia 76ers (49-29) vs. (6) Detroit Pistons (39-39)
Stats to know...
- The Pacers are 11-4 at home since Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury with a net points per possession of +8.3 (thanks, Nuggets! thanks, Lakers!).
- Since inserting Aron Baynes in place of Marcus Morris, Boston’s new starting lineup has outscored opponents by 32.3 points per 100 possessions in 33 minutes played.
- Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Gordon Hayward each had at least 20 points in the same game for the first time against the Heat on Wednesday.
Some odds and ends...
As of this morning, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projects the Pacers to finish the season with the same record as the Celtics, an outcome which would result in the current standings holding as they are.
In that scenario, the Pacers would open the playoffs on the road where they are a combined 1-7 against Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston, compared to 3-3 at home.
And yet, even in spite of those wild splits, there is still a silver lining to be found if they end up dropping tomorrow’s game: They might actually be able to get some rest.
Since the Pacers would no longer control their own destiny, they would have the freedom to plays things by ear. If Boston wins against Orlando, Nate McMillan could sit some of his key guys for the regular season finale in Atlanta.
Cory Joseph, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic have yet to miss a game this season, and Darren Collison and Wesley Matthews have both been banged up, though they each were practice participants on Thursday.
If they have to open the postseason away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, at least they won’t also have to open the postseason running on empty.
Of course all of that depends on the Celtics actually taking care of business versus Orlando, against whom they last lost 105-103 when a botched inbounds play sealed their defeat and prompted Kyrie Irving to call out his young teammates.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Sixers. Not only have they lost two games in a row and four of six, they still have two back-to-backs left to play and they’re 4-7 on 0 days rest. With a 2.5 game lead on the third-seed, falling back to the 4-5 match-up with four games left to play is a long shot, but it isn’t entirely out of the question — especially since Boston holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.
In the event of a tie...
With the Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers own the head-to-head win-loss percentage tiebreaker, 3-1
With the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics: Since none of the teams involved are leading their respective divisions, Boston (5-2) has the edge based off winning percentage against Philadelphia (4-4) and Indiana (2-5), though there is still one head-to-head left to play on April 3 (Celtics vs. Pacers).
With the Boston Celtics: The Celtics lead the regular season series 2-1 with the final meeting scheduled for April 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and they have a one-game lead in games versus the East. If the two teams split the series, and Boston pulls even in the standings, that would mean that the Celtics finished with a superior conference record, thereby netting them the tiebreaker.