Reliving Celtics' most-frustrating greatest comeback ever (and ridiculous tiebreaker rule that is to blame)

Isaiah celebrates with the crowd.
As the Celtics were getting throttled at home for the second game in a row by a potential first-round playoff opponent (after being outscored 39-13 in the second quarter by the Hornets Monday, Boston somehow followed it up with a 35-13 first-quarter debacle vs. the Heat), I started to come to grips with the situation from my seat in the TD Garden.

I was well aware of every playoff tiebreaker scenario and knew that a C's loss would likely drop them to the 6th seed in the East--not a bad option considering they'd avoid the Hawks (who they went 1-3 against this year) in Round 1 and potentially get the Raptors instead of LeBron and the Cavs in Round 2.

However, entering the postseason on a three-game losing streak of double-digit defeats, at the hands of the three clubs the Celtics were battling for playoff positioning, was definitely not ideal.  I though to myself "Just make this game competitive, show some fight.  Give me a sign this season isn't suddenly culminating in a massive train wreck."

And then something amazing happened.

All the ridiculous step-back fall-away jumpers from Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson stopped dropping, and Miami suddenly couldn't score.  In fact, if Johnson hadn't been in the game (he scored five points in the period) the Heat might have gone scoreless in the third quarter.

Miami's five-point frame broke several records for futility:

With the deficit down to four, I thought "Great, I'm OK with whatever happens now, this team has shown what it's made of.  This would no longer be a bad loss."   Yet everything kept going Boston's way, including an absurd Kelly Olynyk finger-roll floater (and one) that I believe bounced off the rafters:

As the Celtics miraculously took control of the game, I noticed something inexplicable happening on the out-of-town scoreboard.  The Hawks, in need of a win to have a shot at the No. 3 seed, were struggling against a Wizards team with nothing to play for that was also sitting its starters.  From that point on, I couldn't take my eye off that one small section of the screen across the arena.

Trailing by eight entering the fourth, I had a giddy feeling when I saw Atlanta get within one at 84-83.  What an unbelievable night this was going to be!  The Celtics were about to get the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage after all!

Or not.

As I watched the time tick away in Washington, the Hawks slipped further and further behind.  I felt cheated as a fan.  The greatest comeback of the entire NBA season (and the second-largest in Celtics regular-season history) was taking place right in front of me, but I could no longer enjoy it--what I would've given at that moment to have no knowledge of the tiebreakers...

I'm not saying I wish the rally hadn't happened.  Not for one second.  I completely agree with the notion that it was huge for the club going forward.  But, with 2:55 remaining in the game and Boston up 87-79, there was a long TV timeout called.  The magical comeback had happened.  The fight was over.  The Heat were toast (pun intended).

At the same time, Atlanta was trailing by 16 with four minutes and change to go.  Here's a tweet I sent the day before:

Boston's contest was actually further along, but the Celtics still had an opportunity to control their own destiny with the No. 4 seed almost certainly off the table.  Later in the evening, Isaiah Thomas had this to say:

My thought stream-of-consciousness thought process during that timeout:

Obviously there's somebody working for the Celtics who knows what's happening.  Do they not tell Brad Stevens?  And why not?  They have to, right?  Maybe Stevens knows and he's talking to the players about it in the huddle.  Maybe they're putting it up to a vote right now--'Alright boys, what do you want to do here, finish this off and head to Atlanta in Round 1, or let these chumps have this one and go see them again down in Florida?'  Or, what if the Celtics sent somebody over to talk to the Heat during the break in the action--'Hey, you guys want this W, we kind of don't, want to play it out that way?'  Oh man, that would be nuts, what if that really happened?  What would Adam Silver do?  There would have to be fines... OK, back to reality.

Jae Crowder after the game:

I can't blame the Celtics for winning, but I can be extremely annoyed with the NBA's seeminly illogical multi-team tiebreaking procedure:

It used to be that division winners were awarded no worse than the fourth seed.  After what happened out West last year, the league decided that was silly and implemented a new rule in which head-to-head record is the primary tiebreaker--except, for no apparent reason, for when ties involve more than one team.

Below are the total cumulative records of the four 48-34 squads in games against each other this season:

Celtics 6-4
Hawks 7-5
Heat 5-6
Hornets 4-7

But, the Celtics are not in the Southeast Division and the other three are.  The division winner was determined by the common games among those three clubs.  Here are their records without Boston involved:

Heat 5-3
Hawks 4-4
Hornets 3-5

For that reason, Miami was awarded the No. 3 seed under the bizarre ruling that division champs automatically win multi-team tiebreakers.

The fourth through sixth seeds were then allocated based on the common games among the Celtics, Hawks and Hornets, with the Heat now out of the equation.

4. Hawks 6-2 (3-1 vs. Boston and Charlotte)
5. Celtics 3-4 (2-1 vs. Charlotte)
6. Hornets 2-5

Boston's 3-0 record against the Heat did not come into play.  In what universe does that make sense?  I wouldn't be surprised if this unlikely outcome prompts the NBA to revise the tiebreaker procedures again before next season.

Alright, I'm done.  It's time to move on.  Let's hope the C's can keep the momentum going on Saturday in Atlanta.

Follow Mark Vandeusen on Twitter @LucidSporsFan