Preview: Bucks at Celtics
BOSTON — The math is simple.
A win by Boston over the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, or a Cleveland Cavaliers loss to the Toronto Raptors, would give the Celtics their first Eastern Conference regular-season crown since 2008 — the last time they won the NBA championship.
Cleveland’s LeBron James, who along with Kyrie Irving didn’t play Monday in the Cavaliers’ overtime loss at Miami that kept the Heat alive in the playoff chase, will sit out Wednesday’s finale — with the status of Irving and Kevin Love up in the air.
James, who has missed the regular-season finale every year since 2007, has made it clear he doesn’t care about his team’s seed in the postseason. His team is 0-7 without him this season.
The Bucks, who won at Boston 103-100 on March 29 behind 28 points and 14 rebounds by Giannis Antetokounmpo and a strong finish by rookie Malcolm Brogdon, have wrapped up the sixth seed in the East and will meet the third-seeded Toronto Raptors in a first-round series.
Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova will all sit out the finale to rest for the playoffs. The Bucks are 3-3 since beating Boston, winning their past two after a three-game losing streak.
The Celtics have taken the next step in the rebuilding process, clinching the Atlantic Division title with their win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night — and now they stand on the verge of winning the conference.
“Trying to finish the season with the No. 1 seed, that means a lot to me personally, so hopefully we can get that,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We’ve been through ups and downs, we’ve been through a lot of injuries this year — haven’t been healthy for the most part. We just kept going.”
On Tuesday, forward Al Horford, who signed the big contract with the Celtics in the offseason, said: “These are the playoffs that I’ve looked forward to the most probably since I’ve been in this league.
“I just think that we have a group of guys that are really starting to understand what Coach (Brad Stevens) wants and expects.”
In addition to losing at home to the Bucks, the Celtics had to go into overtime to win at Milwaukee. In the March 29 game, the Bucks went the physical route on Thomas — something he can again expect in the playoffs — and made him more than earn his 32 points.
The Bucks keep battling, and they could make life tough for the Raptors.
“For me, this is my 12th year consecutively going to the playoffs,” veteran Milwaukee guard Jason Terry said Monday. “For Giannis, as he said, he just wants to be a winner. Well, this is the first step. The goal is a little low, 42 (wins), but it does certify that you have a winning season. The bar is like 50. That’s when you know you have truly arrived as a winning franchise. But this is a step. I’m proud of our guys.
“We’re not just going to stop because we’re in the playoffs,” Terry added. “We have a goal we set before the season and we can do so by taking care of business in our first (playoff) matchup.”
As far as potential opponents for Boston in the first round of the postseason, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Heat are still alive in the battle for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.