WALTHAM, Mass. – Boston’s final game of the regular season feels like it holds much more magnitude than any other contest it has played during its 82-game schedule.
The Celtics head into their season finale tomorrow night against the Milwaukee Bucks with full control of their fate when it comes to playoff seeding. They sit one full game ahead of Cleveland atop the Eastern Conference standings, so a win over Milwaukee would guarantee the C’s the No. 1 seed in the East. If Boston loses to Milwaukee and Cleveland beats Toronto tomorrow night, the Cavs would earn the top seed because they own the season series against the C’s.
It’s difficult to overlook what is at stake, but the Celtics will approach tomorrow’s contest as if it’s any other game on their slate.
“It really is just a game,” Al Horford said Tuesday afternoon following practice in Waltham. “We’re in a really good position. It’s not like we’re fighting for our playoff lives. Then at the same time it’s a nice opportunity for us to come out, get a win and finish out the regular season the right way.”
Horford and his head coach share a similar mentality as they approach the final game of the campaign. Brad Stevens was as even keeled as could be when asked about what will be on the line tomorrow night.
“We just play the game ahead of us,” said Stevens. “That’s all we focus on. It is what it is after 81 games, and then we’ll know where we’re headed with regard to who we’re playing this weekend (in the first round). We’re just focused on trying to play well, so we haven’t put a lot of talk into anything bigger than the one game (we have left).”
Boston’s consistent, game-by-game approach has been a major factor in its success throughout the season. The team prepares the same way for every game, with minor tweaks here and there based upon the matchup at hand.
As the Celtics approach the Playoffs, there’s no plan to alter those methods.
“One of the things that coach Stevens does a really good job of here is he keeps everything really consistent,” said Horford. “We prepare the same way throughout the year so when the Playoffs come, we’re not watching an extra hour of film. We’ve already been doing things the right way all year, so it’s just a carryover effect.”
It would be easy to get caught up in the hype of potentially grabbing the top seed tomorrow night, as may have been the case last week when Cleveland came to town. It could also be tempting to let up during the last week of the regular season knowing that the most meaningful games are yet to come.
The Celtics, however, are not fazed by their current position, and they won’t let it impact how they approach the final game of the season and beyond.
“It’s hard, but we just have to focus on what we can control and all the small things,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to use (practice) days like this and take it game-by-game, because if you get too far ahead you can lose focus on the little things that helped us get to where we are now.
“So if we continue to just focus on days like this and the game tomorrow and use it as a way to prepare us for the Playoffs, we’ll be fine. We can’t say that tomorrow’s not important and let’s just worry about the Playoffs, because that’s when we lose focus and we’ll go out and lose the game tomorrow.”
Bradley and the rest of the Celtics are fully aware of the implications of tomorrow’s game, but that won’t change their mindset when they take on the Bucks. They will approach the game the same way they have tackled all 81 games this season, because that approach is what has put them in the driver’s seat to grab the regular season title in the Eastern Conference.