The Celtics’ lack of effort against bad teams could cost them East’s No. 1 seed

Forsberg: Celtics could pay the price for not showing up against bad teams originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Let’s start with the good news: The Boston Celtics don’t have to face the Orlando Magic, the Houston Rockets and – almost certainly – the Washington Wizards in the 2023 playoffs.

However, Boston’s inability to maintain its focus and intensity against underwhelming competition will ultimately complicate the team’s path as it heads back to the championship stage.

The Celtics, oozing with positive vibes, spilled it all along the Capital Beltway while stumbling to her an unlikely 19-point loss to the undermanned Wizards on Tuesday night in DC

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Forty-eight hours later Malcolm Brogdon declared the Celtics were still chasing No. 1 very closelyBoston sleepwalked their way through a loss that almost guarantees they will settle for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Thursday night should be a late-season showdown between perhaps the two best teams in basketball when the Celtics visit the East-leading Bucks. Instead, Milwaukee could have a three-game lead in this game and could be tempted to downshift. The only preview the Celtics will get is where they need to travel east for a potential Game 7 of the Finals.

Sitting three games behind the Bucks in the losing column, Boston’s odds are set at No. 1 plummeted to 13.2 percent based on Basketball Reference’s daily simulations. The Celtics have an 83.8 percent chance of being number 2 and a minimal 2.9 percent chance of slipping to number 3.

A win Wednesday night in Indiana would give the Bucks a three-game lead with six games left. They could reasonably downshift ahead of Thursday’s visit and still head for the #1 seed. The winner of the Boston-Milwaukee matchup will hold the straight tiebreak, having shared the season streak to that point. Unfortunately, Boston would have to concede at least one more game — and more likely two — beyond their last five to claim the top spot.

The Sixers have a daunting schedule to finish the regular season, suggesting they’re unlikely to see a surge in Boston. A Cavaliers loss Tuesday night has boosted the odds that the Sixers will at least hold on to the No. 3 seed. A matchup between Boston and Philly would loom in Round 2 if higher seeds prevail.

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Here’s a look at the remaining schedules for the East’s top three seeds.

The Celtics continue to play at varying intensities. After a few speed bumps on their recent trip to the West Coast — including insane losses to the Rockets and Jazz — Boston has put together one of its most encouraging stretches of the season with three dominant straight wins.

But the defense disappeared on Tuesday evening. Even more frustrating, head coach Joe Mazzulla And Jayson Tatum shrugged off the loss. Just another night off for a team in a season of head-shaking defeats against weak competition.

Brogdon admitted Sunday the Celtics were stunned to be overtaken by Milwaukee after the Bucks surged in the new calendar year. Boston will look back and lament so many missed chances, especially against poor teams.

The Celtics have rarely brought consistent energy against less talented opponents. The same team that routinely reserves its best basketball for legitimate title contenders often seems baffled by teams that either lack star power or lacked their top talent against Boston.

Maybe it won’t matter in the postseason. Perhaps the intensity of those games will have the Celtics laser focused throughout their run. Maybe home court doesn’t matter in the East finals.

But you’d be a much better judge of the team’s chances if they hadn’t put themselves in this avoidable situation.

A year ago, the Celtics rolled into the playoffs. They dominated opponents and even as some suggested they should avoid the 2nd seeded former coach I am Udoka stated that Boston is not a track team and does not run from anyone. The Celtics proudly dripped into the playoffs.

And yet, the Celtics still needed the home court advantage to get past the Bucks in Game 7 of the East Semifinals. Grant Williams made seven 3-pointers with the benefit of a friendly Garden environment to beat Boston’s ticket forward.

If you settle for the No. 2, the Celtics would go up against the winner of the No. 7 vs. No. 8 play-in match, currently projected as the Heat vs. Hawks. Miami was Boston’s opponent in the East Finals a year ago, while the Hawks were in the East Finals just two seasons ago. Brooklyn, Toronto or Chicago could also sneak into places 7-8 based on the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Celtics are favored in each of these matchups. But the team’s constant struggles against smaller opponents won’t make you feel great about any of these pairings.

Recovery could become a priority in the final two weeks of the regular season. The Celtics are nearly healthy – which only makes Tuesday’s disappointment more galling – and need to keep it that way.

Boston could also benefit from playing more inspired ball in recent games. Because Tuesday was one of the most daunting games in a season full of headslappers.

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