Coming into the 2016-17 NBA season, many were already handing Cleveland the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. After being down 3-1 in the NBA Finals last year, they managed to run off three straight wins to take home the crown over Golden State. After starting this season 9-1, many were already putting the Cavaliers back in their final predictions.
How quickly things change. Cleveland visited Atlanta on Sunday afternoon with a one-game lead in the Eastern Conference for the No. 1 seed. Cleveland at one point had a 26 point lead in this game. The Cavaliers were outscored 44-18 in the 4th quarter, which sent the game into OT. The Hawks were able to carry the momentum into the extra period, shocking the Cavs 126-125. With this loss, Cleveland no longer has sole possession of the No. 1 overall seed in the East.
The team giving them a run for their money are led by someone who was drafted dead last in the 2011 NBA Draft. Isiah Thomas, AKA, Mr. 4th Quarter, continues to silence the haters and nay-sayers as his Boston Celtics took down Charlotte 121-114 on Saturday night. They didn’t know it then, but that game would tie them atop the Eastern Conference with the defending NBA champions.
With only two games left in the regular season, Boston and Cleveland both have a record of 51-29. Cleveland’s schedule isn’t a cake walk, having to travel to Miami before closing things out against Toronto. Boston will see a lighter load, taking on the NBA worst Brooklyn Nets before finishing up against the Greek-Freak led Milwaukee Bucks. There’s a real chance that the defending NBA champions will be going through someone else’s stadium to reach that final stage.
While Cleveland looked like the clear favorites early on, their late season skid has caused Boston to quietly sneak up behind them for the drivers seat in the East. The Cavaliers came into March with a four game lead in conference. After the Cleveland Cavaliers finishing the month of March 7-10, Boston took control of the top spot and led Cleveland by half a game coming into April.
Boston, and especially Isiah Thomas, have been playing lights out basketball since January. Since the new year began Boston has gone 31-15, providing a major push for that top spot in the Eastern Conference. While having a major slip up, Cleveland has been able to beat Boston in their head to head matchups. Cleveland is 3-1 against Boston this season, with the most recent matchup coming on April 5th where the Cavs won easily, 114-91. While it seems Cleveland can handle Boston head to head, the Celtics are doing more around the league to earn them a chance at the No. 1 overall.
These two final games of the regular season will mean a lot in terms of NBA Playoffs. While the Western Conference has been won by the Warriors, the East is still up for grabs between Cleveland and Boston.