It's official: Cavs to open playoffs vs. Celtics
Finally, the Cavaliers know what they are doing in the NBA playoffs.
Or more precisely, who they will meet and try to beat right off the bat.
That's because the Boston Celtics earned the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference with a day to spare, setting up a first-round matchup with the second-seeded Cavs.
The Celtics secured the seventh spot via a 95-93 win over the Toronto on Tuesday -- when forward Jae Crowder buried an off-balance fadeaway jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining.
Brad Stevens lifted his team to the playoffs in just his second season as an NBA coach. Much like the Cavs' David Blatt did in his first season. Perhaps most impressively is the fact both coaches have directed clubs that made some major trades and significant roster changes during the season.
Stevens realizes it's a long way from the seventh seed to the NBA Finals -- especially when you're opening against LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and the star-fueled Cavs.
"To have a chance to compete against the very best in the league is a great opportunity," Stevens said after the win over Toronto. "It's a big mountain, but it is a great opportunity."
Meanwhile, the Raptors' loss also impacts the Cavs, as it all but delivered the third seed to Chicago. In that scenario, if the Cavs and Bulls both win their first-round matchups, they would meet in the conference semifinals. The Bulls can secure the third seed Wednesday with a win over the Hawks, or a Raptors loss vs. the Hornets.
Atlanta owns the top seed and will play either Indiana or Brooklyn in the first round. The Pacers stayed alive by defeating the Wizards in double-overtime Tuesday, and now need a win (at Memphis) or a loss by the Nets (vs. Orlando) on Wednesday to gain the No. 8 seed.
The Celtics have won five straight, including two weekend games over the Cavs. It should be noted, however, the Cavs rested most of their best players for a large stretch of the first game and all of the second.
"It's exactly what we wanted, no matter who it is -- whether the Atlanta Hawks or Cleveland," Crowder said of the Celtics making the playoffs.
The Cavs (52-29) close the regular season Wednesday at home vs. the Wizards. The Celtics (39-42) are at Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Playoff dates and times are expected to be announced by the league office late Wednesday or early Thursday.