BOSTON — The Celtics control their own destiny in their quest for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Boston’s win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, combined with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ overtime loss to the Miami Heat, leaves the Celtics one game up in the East with one game to play.
With a win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks in Wednesday’s regular-season finale, the Celtics will secure the No. 1 seed and guarantee home-court advantage through the Eastern Conference finals.
The Cavaliers host the Raptors on Wednesday night. If Boston stumbles against Milwaukee, the Cavaliers can claim the top spot with a win.
“The No. 1 seed, that means a lot to me, personally,” said Celtics All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas. “Hopefully we can get that.
“I thought about [the No. 1 seed] a lot. I think it’s pretty cool to be the No. 1 seed, and hopefully we can finish the season that way. It says a lot about this group. I don’t think anybody thought we’d be in this position, so it’s a nice feeling.”
Just five days ago, after getting dismantled by the Cavaliers in the final head-to-head meeting between the two teams at TD Garden, it seemed highly unlikely that Boston could find a way to get ahead of the Cavaliers, who owned the head-to-head tiebreaker after winning three of the four regular-season meetings.
It seemed even less likely when the Celtics fell to the Atlanta Hawks the next night on the road.
But those same Hawks rallied from a 26-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Cavaliers in overtime on Sunday. Cleveland, playing without many of its key bodies on Monday night, including LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, watched as the Miami Heat overcame a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to win in overtime.
That win keeps Miami’s playoff hopes alive. The Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Heat are jockeying for two of the final spots in the East and the right to play the Celtics or Cavaliers in the opening round.
Celtics players could be heard reacting to the Cavaliers-Heat game from the trainer’s room inside TD Garden after Monday’s game. Thomas, speaking after the Heat prevailed, reveled in Boston controlling its own destiny.
“It says a lot about this team,” Thomas said. “We’ve been through ups and downs, been through a lot of injuries this year, haven’t been that healthy for the most part. But we just kept going. It says a lot about who we are. No matter what the situation was, we just kept going and tried to continue to get better each and every game. That’s what we did, and we put ourselves in a good position at the end of the season.”
The Celtics won their first Atlantic Division title since the 2011-12 season with Monday’s win. Celtics coach Brad Stevens admitted that “in Boston, you only talk about one goal, right?” But Thomas did take some pride in the accomplishment.
“I’ve never won [a division title], so yeah [it means something],” said Thomas. “All these things that we’re doing this year, it means a lot to me.
“We just want to, I guess, just control what we can control, really. At the end of the day, that’s all we can worry about. We can’t worry about anything else, so we gotta be locked in. Especially for the last game — continue to play the right way, get some more momentum going into the playoffs.”