The Celtics and the Playoff Trail - can YOU get to the NBA finals?

Let's play a game, shall we?

It's called "The Playoff Trail", and the rules are simple. You pick a team strategy based on some basic data, and hope you made the right choice in your effort to win it all. No cheating! If you look up which teams I have anonymized, you may change how you choose your strategy. Still with me? Let's see what we've got to work with.


Has won seven of its last ten games, is ranked ninth of 30 on offense and eleventh of 30 on defense. You have two games left in the season, and you are currently in the lead for the top seed by a half game, ahead of the reigning league champions, who are themselves tied for the second seed with another team who have surged in the last month of the season, despite a significant injury to a key player. The games remaining are against the following teams:

Team A: You have split the regular series meetings with this team - one win and one loss - and they have won seven of their last ten games while owning the league's twelfth-ranked offense and twentieth-ranked defense.

Team F: You have a three win, no loss record versus this team over the regular season, which has won four of its last six games and possesses the leagues' 28th-ranked offense and 24th-ranked defense.


With just two games left, you may be able to dictate your playoff fate. Had things shaken out just a little differently, it would be easier - but when are these things EVER easy when it matters? As of today, it would shake out like so:

If you remain in first place:

You would face Team H, which you currently have a three game regular season sweep against, and who have won four of their last ten games, possessing the league's sixteenth-best offense and the eighteenth-best defense in the first round followed by the winner of the Team D - Team G series, should you defeat Team H.

Team D has beat you three times in the regular season, winning seven of their last ten games, and has the highest-ranked offense in the East aside from the reigning champs, and the eleventh-best defense, to boot. Team G happens to have split the regular season meetings between you, but has only won three of its last ten games, and has one of the worst offenses in the league (27th of 30) but one of the best defenses (4th).

If you fall to second:

You would face Team B, who you have swept this season, four games to none, but have won six of their last ten with the nineteenth-best offense and fifth (!) best defense in the league, then face the winner of the Team A and Team E if you advance.

Team A, as you remember, has split the regular series meetings, won seven of their last ten games, and has the league's twelfth-ranked offense and twentieth-ranked defense. Team E has also split the regular series with you, but two and two instead of one and one, and managed to win half of their last ten games with the league's eight-best offense and nineteenth-best defense.

If you (somehow) fall to third:

You would start out playing Team A, followed by the winner of the Team C - Team B series. Unless, of course, the teams tied for second at the moment change place through their own wins and losses in the meantime. To keep your head from exploding, we've worked that eventuality into the results, which I am sure you'll appreciate - if it works out in your favor, anyway. So, all that out of the way, it's time to test your strategy (remember your choice!):


A. Play your best players for both games, hoping to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs?
B. Likely concede the game against Team A by resting two of your more injury-prone starters, hoping to prevent unnecessary injury of a key player?
C. Rest those two same starters against the terrible Team F to avoid a tough pair of matchups in the first and second rounds, but give Team A your best shot?

Got your strategy down? Don't forget which one you picked, because it's about to get complicated.


Click on the red text below that says "Roll again", and write down your number.

  • you rolled lower than 20
Congrats! In this and every scenario for strategy A, you manage to hang onto first place. You win not only the first and second round series, but manage to squeak by the banged-up reigning champs with the aid of the raucous home crowd behind you the whole way. Unfortunately, you are on the wrong end of a "gentleman's sweep" in the finals, but nobody will look at the season as anything less than an unmitigated success, even still.
  • you rolled 20 - 30
You did pretty good! After crushing Team H in the first round, you squeak by Team D on a wing and a prayer, only to be beaten in a six-game series by Team C, which, in case you haven't figured it out yet, it the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Good job, good effort!
  • you rolled 30 - 45
Things might have gone better. You destroy Team H in the first round, but fall to a streaking Team D four games to three after they return to full strength in the second round. Still a damn good year, but you can't help but wonder...
  • you rolled 45 or higher
The unthinkable happens - Team H has one star, and he has the series of a lifetime against you. Another first round exit, third year in a row - at least this one went to seven games?

  • you rolled lower than 20
You manage to hang onto first place, and it works out pretty well! You win the first and second round series, squeak by the banged-up reigning champs, but end up losing a "gentleman's sweep" in the finals. Still a GREAT year.
  • you rolled 20 - 30
You fall to the second seed. This is not a big deal, though - you manage to sweep Team B, but lose your starting power forward to a rolled ankle in the final game. Even still, you manage to squeak by Team E in a seven game series, but don't have the roster to get past the Cavs in the Conference Finals, falling four games to two.
  • you rolled 30 - 45
You fall to the second seed. Things go very poorly, with you JUST getting past Team B in a seven game series, only to fall to Team A after your starting shooting guard overworks his oft-inflamed Achilles. The fanbase loses its mind over this point, as this is more or less what killed the team last post-season. Intense arguments over whether or not more rest would have helped add fuel to a growing fire, and in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, the season is shortened by ten games, and made yet another week longer.
  • you rolled 45 or higher
This is the weird timeline. As the second seed, you get more than you bargained for from Team B, winning a six game series that's closer than it sounds, but smash Team E in the second round, four games to one. Then, somehow, you avoid the Cavs in the Conference Finals after they get embarrassed by a red-hot Team D. This is unexpected by pretty much everyone - though almost every pundit lies and says they saw it coming with the Cavs' late season performance being what it was - typical.

  • you rolled lower than 20
You somehow keep the first seed, even though you drop that game to Team A in the second-to-last game of the regular season. And then you swat away team H in the first round, and have a well-rested team that beats Team D by the skin of its teeth in the second round, four games to three. Unfortunately for you, this lands you in an unwelcome rematch with team A, who, having built up a full head of steam, squeaked past the Cavs - and, sadly, you - in seven- and six- game series, respectively.
  • you rolled 20 - 30
You fall to third, which is pretty surprising, though in light of last year's weird finish, perhaps less so than in some years. You come into the first round against team A with a chip on your shoulder and it pays off big, taking them out in six games. However, your starting point guard severely sprains his wrist in the first game against the Cavs, who slid to second behind an ascendant Team D's late-season push. The Cavs destroy you, even in their depleted state, four games to one.
  • you rolled 30 - 45
You fall to second, as you assumed you might. You make quick work of Team H, sweeping them easily, then fall in a hard-fought seven game series to Team D. Not a bad season, overall, but nagging questions about your late-season strategy remain. Nobody can question the team's progress, even if it didn't quite end the way you'd hoped.
  • you rolled 45 or higher
You fall to second, and Team B's star center has a pair of career nights against you, pushing the first-round series to seven games, though you handily prevail in the seventh matchup. Your team is very tired, though, and your starting small forward turns his ankle mildly, missing two of the next series games against Team A, which is almost too much for you to handle. You manage to get by them in six games, however after their starting power forward - if you can call him that - turns his ankle in game four, allowing you to gut out the series. You end up playing Team D in the finals, and against all odds manage to get past them in seven games. You even manage a good showing against the eventual champions coming out of the west, winning a pair of games before being dispatched in game six.


How did your strategy work out for you? Better or worse than you expected? Perhaps you are wondering what the point of all of this is - so I'll tell you. In a close seeding situation, the potential outcomes are probably too close to risk resting players if home court advantage and a reasonable if not optimal first-round matchup are the likely outcome of winning the rest of your games. However, if you can be sure of avoiding teams you have a spotty or even bad matchup history against, it may be worth seeing how rest effects the standings - and hopefully health - of your starters. As many of you noted in my recent article on whether the first seed is the presumed boon one might think it is in every scenario, a lot can happen between now and the end of the season, so any strategy considering even a small amount of rest may have outsized impact on the post-season, depending on how other teams - and the Celts' health - shakes out.

Let's hope this is not the outcome.

This isn't meant to tell you one strategy or another is the right one, because context matters from one situation to another. The teams were anonymized to try and account for biases myself and several other CelticsLife writers have found ourselves surprised by in recent weeks, so hopefully this exercise (and data, most of which - apart from future results I made up for the simulation - comes from real, recent performance by these teams) helps you think about how you would approach this final stretch of games. And of course, it's to remind us that (shades of Ray Allen and Draymond Green here) even seemingly very minor individual acts can totally change a series, season, and even legacy.

Team A - Milwaukee Bucks 
Team B - Miami Heat
Team C - Cleveland Cavaliers  
Team D - Toronto Raptors 
Team E - Washington Wizards 
Team F - Brooklyn Nets 
Team G - Atlanta Hawks  
Team H - Indiana Pacers

For more stories about the playoffs on CelticsLife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.

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