The Celtics will be the 2-seed: 5 takeaways vs. Grizzlies

Celts

Jayson Tatum’s 31 points helped turn the regular-season finale into a laugh.

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum handles the ball against Memphis Grizzlies guard Ziaire Williams. AP Photo/Brandon Dill

Ahead of Sunday’s game, Ime Udoka said the Celtics would play normally, dropping chips wherever they wanted.

In fact, the Celtics did what they’ve been doing for months – they crushed their opponent, this time the Grizzlies without one of their best players. Jayson Tatum scored 31 points with an incredibly efficient 11-for-14 shooting that led the Celtics to a 139-110 win that featured heavily the bench mob in the fourth quarter.

Now the Celtics know where they stand – the No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. In a three-way tie at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, the Celtics hold the tiebreaker over the Bucks (due to record against Eastern Conference playoff opponents) and the 76ers (due to the head-to-head record). You will face either the Cavaliers or the Nets. The trade-off for being able to face the Nets in the first round — an admittedly daunting task, thanks to Kevin Durant — is that if the Celtics beat their first-round opponent, they have home advantage over their second-round opponent preserved (probably the bucks).

It’s all tough in the playoffs — a first-round series against the Cavaliers would be preferable, but certainly not a vacation. If the Celtics see themselves as competitors, they should be able to beat a flawed, battered Nets team. If they lose to the Nets, have they ever really been competitors at all?

The Celtics ended the regular season with a laugh — the kind of game that saw Tatum smack Ja Morant’s father in the trash and later smack him. It was the kind of game where the bench called for Celtics two-way Matt Ryan to make his first NBA basket in the fourth quarter, where Malik Fitts showed his jumping ability with a tremendous dunk in the fourth quarter and in the Grizzlies Taylor-trained Jenkins challenged a foul call after a spectacular garbage-time block by Yves Pons to ensure his big man got credit at the back of the bench (a Jenkins coach of the year move, really).

Sunday’s game will likely be the Celtics’ last easy game for a long time.

Other snacks

2. If you missed it during gameplay, you probably want to see Jayson Tatum say “Wooooow” at Tee Morant.

Tatum was spectacular – a perfect warm-up for the Celtics’ best player as the start of the playoffs neared. He scored 25 of his 31 points in the first half and had opportunities to score more – a late steal initiated a switch opportunity just before the break. Instead, Tatum laced up a pass for Payton Pritchard for a layup that helped establish a lead that allowed him to sit down after just 26 minutes.

The Celtics are great for many reasons, not the least of which is Tatum’s decision to both be great and help everyone else be great as well.

3. Brian Scalabrine noted the many ties between the Celtics and the Nets on the NBC Sports Boston show. Kyrie Irving is the obvious one, but also Ime Udoka spent his last season as an assistant coach – likely his last season as an assistant for a long time – on Steve Nash’s bench.

Perhaps the most interesting connection when the Celtics play the Nets (because we’ll admit, the Kyrie angle is pretty played out): Last season, the Celtics were in the play-in and faced the Nets in the first round. Earlier this season, the Celtics and Nets were able to face each other again in the play-in tournament… with the Celtics as the 8 seed and the Nets as the 1 seed.

A lot has changed in just a few months.

4. Al Horford finished the game with 13 points in 6-for-8 shooting, coming back from a previous problem that had kept him out of the Celtics’ game against the Bulls.

“I think these next few days are going to be very good for me,” Horford said. “By the time we get going again, I should be fine.”

For Horford, Sunday’s final felt like an opportunity to reflect that he was back where he wanted to be.

“Just very grateful to be back,” he said. “To be back in that position. Playing with our team again. And with this group of guys. It’s been pretty cool for me this year to almost sit back and see how much Jayson has grown, Jaylen [Brown]Mark [Smart] – and really think about it. When I got off the plane yesterday, I yelled at the boys. I thought, ‘Game 82’. Like “Yo, game 82”.

“Just excited. It’s exciting man. We got through the season. We are where we want to be. And that was just a perspective for me. For example game 82, I’m here, we’ll do it, it goes how we want. And I’m just very grateful.”

5. Do the Celtics feel like they’ve sent a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference by stepping up to claim the 2-seed?

“I think so,” Horford said. “I think it’s pretty clear. We understand what’s ahead, of course, but it’s about us and putting ourselves in the best position that we think we can. And we’re ready, man. We are ready to go.”

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