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Celtics’ In-Season Tournament Clinching Scenarios Explained

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) and guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the second half against the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden.

The Boston Celtics’ double-digit loss to the Orlando Magic last Friday has plenty of implications for their In-Season Tournament hopes (2-1). Going into Tuesday’s final group play against the Chicago Bulls, there are several clinching scenarios for the Celtics to advance to the eight-team knockout round in Las Vegas.​​ The knockout rounds portion of the In-Season Tournament consists of the six group winners and a wildcard team from each conference. Despite losing to the Magic, both scenarios are in play. Let’s break down each one.

Celtics’ In-Season Tournament Clinching Scenarios Explained

How the Celtics Can Clinch Group C

Boston can clinch the group by beating the Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets winning. However, securing a win by a comfortable margin is also necessary. In this scenario, there would be a three-way tie for Group C with the Celtics, Nets, and Magic. In this case, since there are more than two teams, a tied point differential serves as the tiebreaker. This makes it essential for the Celtics to win by a significant margin. It’s also important to note if two teams tie for first place, the head-to-head record serves as the tiebreaker. So if the Celtics win and the Nets lose, the Magic would win Group C based on their head-to-head record against the Celtics. Currently, the Celtics have a 0.0-point differential in the In-Season tournament, while the Nets have a +2.6 and the Magic have a +5.5 point differential. Breaking down these numbers, the Celtics must win by at least six points to secure the tiebreaker over the Magic, who have completed their group play games. In contrast, the Nets must win by no more than eight against the Raptors. That is the complex scenario where the Celtics clinch Group C. But what are the other possibilities?

How the Celtics Can Clinch the Wildcard

At face value, these three wildcard scenarios are very complex; let’s analyze and simplify each scenario. Scenario 1: losses from the Knicks, Cavs, Nets, and Heat would make the Celtics the lone 3-1 team not to clinch their group, making them the clear wildcard. Ultimately, all four teams are unlikely to lose on Tuesday, but it remains possible. Scenario 2: Boston wins and finishes ahead of the other possible wildcard team(s) based on point differential. In short, the Celtics won by a comfortable amount and secured the point differential tiebreaker in the process. The number is likely six points or more, given the other teams competing for a wildcard spot. Scenario 3: the Knicks, Cavs, Nets, and Heat all lose. Even if Celtics lose a close game, they could secure a wildcard based on the point differential. This is the most unlikely scenario we’ve discussed, but it needs to be mentioned. Ultimately, scenario 2 feels the most realistic if the Celtics clinch a wildcard spot.

Why Boston Has to Take Care of Business

If the Celtics drop Tuesday’s game against the Bulls and/or the tiebreakers don’t favor Boston, they will not advance to the knockout rounds in Las Vegas. It’s important to note the Celtics will still have two games during the week of the knockout round, no matter what. Despite the games not being on the schedule, if the Celtics don’t make the tournament, they would still play two games. There’s no real consequence of missing the knockout rounds, and it certainly shouldn’t impact the Celtics’ label as title contenders. However, I still believe the tournament has some value and could further unite the squad. On paper, the Bulls shouldn’t challenge the Celtics; they have a 5-13 season record, good for 13th in the East.

Additionally, Chicago is 0-3 in group play. However, the Bulls typically play well against the Celtics, including two upset wins last season. Similarly, the Celtics have struggled to play with a lead in recent weeks and are dealing with key injuries to Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday. Porzingis has been ruled out with a calf injury for the second consecutive game; he will be re-evaluated in a week. Holiday is listed as a game-time decision due to an ankle injury. These crucial injuries will help sway the outcome of the game. This makes it even more important for Boston to fire all cylinders, especially considering the value of a blowout win. Ultimately, Celtics fans should root for a blowout tomorrow to best position themselves in the In-Season Tournament.


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