April 18, 2024

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The Celtics clinch first place in the NBA playoffs after defeating the Suns

The Celtics clinch first place in the NBA playoffs after defeating the Suns

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics became the first team in the NBA to clinch a spot in the playoffs this season, after defeating the Phoenix Suns 127-112, to advance to 52-14. With the Philadelphia 76ers losing to the Milwaukee Bucks 114-105, the Celtics have a 16-game lead over the sixth seed and are officially guaranteed to qualify for the post-season.

The Celtics have held a comfortable lead at the top of the standings for months, tying the 2015-16 Spurs for the fourth-best net rating in NBA history at 11.3. They are on pace for their first 60-win series since going 62-20 in 2008-09. They improved to 30-3 at home and have won 15 of their last 17 games.

Jaylen Brown went on a tear for 37 points on 14-for-23 shooting in Thursday's win, while Al Horford made a career-high six 3-pointers in place of the injured Kristaps Porzinis. The team made a season-high 25 three-pointers, two short of the franchise record.

With Porziņģis still nursing a hamstring strain, the Celtics only have six games remaining against teams higher up the Play-In Championship in the standings. This is Boston's second victory over the Suns last week and the fourth in a row after a short series of defeats against rivals Cleveland and Denver. While the Celtics have performed on their own plane all season, the Nuggets are the only team to beat them consistently.

Can Boston earn the top seed in the East?

Entering a 9.5-game lead into Thursday, the Celtics are headed to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. The playoff draw could be dangerous with the 76ers and Miami Heat among a group of talented teams in the Play-In Tournament mix. If Joel Embiid returns healthy from a knee injury or Miami turns to its usual late-season form, Boston could face a very serious draw in the first round. With other threats like the Bucks, Cavaliers and New York Knicks, the Celtics' road will not be an easy one in the Eastern Conference.

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They played like the favorite in the conference. As of Thursday evening, Basketball-Reference.com's playoff probability tool gave them a 75.8% chance of reaching the NBA Finals and a 59.3% chance of winning the franchise's first championship since 2008. Those odds are based on 10,000 simulations of the rest. This season may be very upbeat in Boston's favor but it reflects how statistically dominant the Celtics have been so far. They entered Thursday with a net rating of 11.3, which is nearly seven points per 100 possessions better than the second-best team in the East (Cleveland). -Jay King, Celtics beat writer

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(Photo: Maddy Meyer/Getty Images)