Fresh off ending the Golden State Warriors' 54-game home winning streak on Friday, the Boston Celtics clinched a playoff berth with a 107-100 win over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center last night.
It will be the franchise's second consecutive trip to the postseason, but this is a completely different team to the one that secured the seventh seed last year with a losing record.
At 45-32, the Celtics currently sit in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and are jostling for positions three to six with the Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets, with very little separating them all in the battle for home court advantage.
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"That's what you want, obviously, to give yourself a chance, and the only way you get a chance is to make the playoffs," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said post-game. "It's been a very focused group and I haven't heard the guys talk about (the playoffs) a ton. Obviously, when asked about it, they may comment on it, but they've been pretty focused on just the task at hand."
Having become the only team to defeat both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Warriors on the road this season, the top teams in the east and the west, the Celtics have clearly displayed their credentials and will be dangerous opponents in the playoffs.
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After being swept in the opening round in 2015 by the Cavs, the men in green appear to have used that feeling as motivation and have come on leaps and bounds.
Isaiah Thomas, the team's leading scorer averaging 22.3 points per game, is keen for the team to not drop off in the final few games down the stretch after cementing a playoff spot.
"We want to finish the best possible way we can, and that seed is the third seed," Thomas said, via Reuters. "So, hopefully we can keep it and go into the playoffs with some momentum."
The win over the Lakers marked the final time Kobe Bryant suited up against the team he has enjoyed a bitter rivalry against throughout his 19 years in the league.
Bryant had an obvious spring in his step because of the opponent and was determined to get one over his old rivals. Despite ending up on the losing side though, the Black Mamba turned back the clock and had one of his best games of the campaign, putting up a game-high 34 points.
"It's weird, the last time I'm facing that green," Bryant said after the game. "It's been a joy to go against them, to be a part of a rivalry that I've watched for so long."
The 37-year-old now has just two home games remaining as a Laker and Celtics All-Star Thomas, a huge Bryant fan as a kid, was grateful for sharing a court with his idol.
"That's the best player of my generation. He changed the game, not just on the court, but off the court," Thomas said. "He means a lot. That's my favourite player, so it means a lot to share the same court with him and be able to compete against him."