The Boston Celtics went into Sunday night’s regular-season finale in Memphis understanding that the outcome would determine which seed they’d be facing in the first round of the playoffs. But rather than focus on their potential opponents for the following week, they focused on themselves, in that moment, by finishing out strong.
Rolling with their regular starting lineup, minus Rob Williams, the Celtics mauled the Grizzlies’ second-stringers, 139-110, securing second place in the East and a first-round matchup against the winner of the seventh-/eighth-place play-in game between Brooklyn and Cleveland Tuesday night.
Boston started the day in third place, but after Milwaukee rested its starters in an 18-point blowout loss to the Cavaliers, the C's saw the door to second sitting wide open.
A win for the Celtics would secure the second seed. A loss combined with a Philadelphia loss would keep them in third place, which would lock up a first-round matchup with the sixth-place Chicago Bulls. And a loss combined with a 76ers win would bump Boston down into fourth, setting up a showdown with the fifth-place Toronto Raptors.
However, rather than playing the complicated matchup game, the Celtics kept it simple and just played their game, dominating on both sides of the floor.
“We were worried about ourselves, getting our guys some reps,” head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “And now, we’ll dig into Cleveland and Brooklyn.”
Boston’s coaching staff was particularly focused on getting Al Horford and Jayson Tatum some reps so that they could avoid having 10 full days off after sitting out the previous game in Milwaukee with minor injuries.
Tatum balled out with a game-high 31 points, including 26 in the first half, while Horford added 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown tallied 18 points and Daniel Theis logged a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
None of Boston's starters played more than 26 minutes. There was no need for them to, as the C’s built a 72-49 lead at halftime, which eventually turned into a 33-point advantage in the fourth quarter.
“Kept guys fresh with low minutes, get some other guys some run, and keep doing what we’ve been doing since February,” said Udoka.
The Celtics had been beating teams handily on a regular basis throughout 2022, compiling 14 wins of 20-plus points since Jan. 23. So it only felt right to conclude the regular season in a similar manner.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Horford said of his team’s dominant finish. “It’s about us this time of year. It’s how we’ve been playing, it’s the things we need to do, our identity defensively, on offense, playing at our pace, how we want. So it’s about us.”
That’s why Boston wasn’t concerned with how Sunday’s result would determine their first-round matchup. They’re not worried about playing either Brooklyn or Cleveland because they believe that they can maintain the level of success that they have been building over the past few months.
“We’re not trying to dodge anybody,” said Payton Pritchard, who scored 12 points in 15 minutes off the bench. “We believe in ourselves. Go in and whoever we play, we’re gonna ready.”
They should believe in themselves, as Brown emphasized to his teammates postgame in the locker room: “No matter who we match up with, I’ll take us versus anybody. Let’s go.”
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