Sunday's the day. The Celtics playoff positioning all comes down to this.
With three games left to go in the regular season, the C's and the Miami Heat, who are both 55-24 and tied for the second seed in the Eastern Conference, will meet at American Airlines Arena at 3:30 p.m. EDT (TV/Radio: ABC/WEEI) to fight for second place in the conference.
The Celtics, who are 9-9 over their last 18 games, probably never envisioned themselves being in this situation, having been in control of the East for the majority of the regular season. But their long swoon that has lasted over a month not only allowed the Chicago Bulls to pass them in the standings and clinch the East's No. 1 seed on Friday night, but also let the Heat, who have had no luck against Boston this year, hang around long enough to make Sunday's nationally televised game relevant.
The C's have the season series results on their side. In the two teams' previous three meetings this season, Boston has gone 3-0, holding Miami to just 89.7 points per game. Although LeBron James and Chris Bosh have put up solid stats against the C's in those three match-ups, Miami's longest tenured superstar, Dwayne Wade, has not. Wade has managed just 12.3 points per game against the C's on a measly 26.7 percent shooting. Keeping Wade down on Sunday will be a big key for the C's if they want to win.
Winners 18 times in their last 20 meetings with the Heat, the Celtics will look to Rajon Rondo to control tempo in this one. Rondo has averaged 14.3 assists per game against the Heat this year and is coming off a 20 point, 14 assist, six steal performance in Friday night's win over Washington.
Additionally, center Nenad Krstic, who will be playing his first game against the Heat in a Celtics uniform on Sunday, had his biggest game in weeks against the Wizards, registering 17 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes. Miami's lack of a real inside threat could well make Krstic that much more important. The Celtics will also look to Ray Allen, who has torched the Heat for 22.7 points per game on the season.
Even with a loss on Sunday, the C's aren't necessarily locked into No. 3. They own the tiebreaker against the Heat thanks to the three wins this year and will still have two more chances to catch up against the Wizards on Monday and in their regular season finale at TD Garden against the Knicks on Wednesday.