NBA playoff seedings primer: What is at stake in every game Sunday


With one day left in the NBA season — one game left for every team — we know just three things for sure: Philadelphia is the No. 1 seed in the East, Boston is the No. 7 seed in that same conference, and San Antonio is the No 10 seed in the West.

That’s it. That’s the only NBA playoff seedings that are settled. We know the 10 teams in each conference that will make the play-in or playoffs, but who will face whom in the first round is still very much up in the air.

Here is what is at stake when it comes to NBA playoff seedings Sunday (we did not list every game, for example, the Philadelphia vs. Orlando game outcome doesn’t matter).


Boston Celtics at New York Knicks, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

The Knicks control their own destiny: Win and they secure the four seed in the East and will get to host a first-round series at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks and Hawks are tied at 41-30, but the Knicks have the tiebreaker. Miami is one game behind both of them. If the Knicks lose, they could fall to fifth if Atlanta wins and all the way to sixth if Miami also wins (the Heat and Knicks would be tied in this scenario, but Miami has the tiebreaker). The game is meaningless to the Celtics, who are locked in as the seven seed.

Indiana Pacers at Toronto Raptors, 1 p.m.

If Indiana wins it will be the ninth seed in the East and will host the loser of the Washington/Charlotte game in a win-or-go-home play-in game on Tuesday. If the Pacers lose they will be the 10 seed (because both the Wizards and Hornets have tiebreakers over them) and will have to travel to that play-in game. Toronto has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets at Washington Wizards, 1 p.m.

One of the biggest games of the day: The winner clinches the eighth seed in the East and will travel to Boston for a play-in game on Tuesday. The Charlotte/Washington winner only has to win one of two play-in games to advance to the playoffs. The loser likely falls to the 10 seed (behind the Pacers, if they win as expected) and will need to win two play-in games on the road to advance to the postseason.

Houston Rockets at Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m.

Whether Atlanta has anything to play for will depend upon how the Knicks do earlier in the day: If New York loses to Boston, then the Hawks can climb up to the four seed and host a first-round playoff series with a win. If the Knicks win (and lock up the four seed), then the Hawks are locked in as the five seed and the game is meaningless. Because the Knicks play hours earlier, the Hawks will know if they need to win before taking the court. Houston has long been eliminated from the playoffs.

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets, 7 p.m.

The Nets sit as the two seed, one game ahead of Milwaukee, but the Bucks have the tiebreaker. That means the Nets have to win to secure the two seed, and with it home court in the second round of the playoffs (where they likely meet Milwaukee). Cleveland has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Miami Heat at Detroit Pistons, 8 p.m.

After their loss to the Bucks on Saturday, the Heat are the sixth seed in the East (and likely destined to play those Bucks again in the first round of the playoffs). Miami will know before it takes the floor if it has anything to play for on Sunday: If New York loses earlier in the day, then a Miami win would see them climb a spot to the fifth seed and send New York down to sixth (Atlanta also would have to beat the tanking Rockets for that scenario to work out). Detroit has been eliminated from the playoffs.

Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls 8 p.m.

Milwaukee sits third in the Eastern conference, but just a game back of Brooklyn and the Bucks own the tiebreaker. If the Bucks win and the Nets fall to Cleveland, Milwaukee would get the two seed and host a potential second-round playoff series against Brooklyn. Chicago was previously eliminated from playoff contention.


Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs, 2 p.m.

The Suns still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the West and NBA, but they need to win this game and hope the Jazz stumble against the shorthanded Kings later in the day. Not likely, the Suns probably end up the two seed, but it gives them something to play for. San Antonio is locked in as the 10 seed in the West and will be on the road for the first play-in game Wednesday.

Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Maybe the most important and straightforward game of the day: The teams go in tied at 38-33, the winner gets the eighth seed and the loser falls to ninth. The winner will have to win just one-of-two play-in games to advance to the playoffs and will travel to face the No. 7 seed (Lakers or Blazers) on Wednesday to start the play-in games. The loser will host the Spurs on Wednesday in the 9/10 play-in game and, if they win, have to win on the road against the loser of the 7/8 game to advance to the playoffs. Lose and it is a much tougher road.

Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans, 9 p.m. (NBATV)

The Lakers come into Sunday tied with the Trail Blazers for the 6/7 seeds at 41-31, but Portland has the tiebreaker. For the Lakers to get the No. 6 spot, they need to win this game, then hope Portland loses to Denver. For the Lakers, getting the No. 6 seed means avoiding the play-in tournament and getting five or six days off. A Los Angeles loss or a Portland win means the Lakers will host a play-in game on Wednesday.

Denver Nuggets at Portland Trail Blazers, 9 p.m.

One of the few games of the day where both teams have something on the line. For Portland, win and it is the sixth seed in the West and avoids the play-in game (the Blazers are tied with the Lakers but own the tiebreaker). If the Blazers lose and the Lakers win, the Lakers get the No. 6 seed and Portland will host a play-in game on Wednesday.

For Denver, win and it is the three seed in the West… except it may prefer the four seed and to be on the other side of the bracket from the Lakers (whether they finish 6 or 7). The Nuggets and Clippers are tied at 47-24 (the Nuggets have the tiebreaker), so a Nuggets loss and a Clippers win and the Nuggets fall to the four seed. Either way, Denver hosts a first-round playoff series.

Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder, 9 p.m.

Los Angeles sat Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in a loss to Toronto Friday that dropped them to the No. 4 seed — and that may be where the Clippers want to be. The fourth seed has the Clippers on the other side of the bracket from the Lakers and sets up a potential second-round showdown with the Jazz, a team the Clippers think they match up well against. If the Clippers lose, they are the No. 4 seed. If the Clippers beat the Thunder and the Nuggets lose, the Clippers climb to the No. 3 seed. Either way, the Clippers host a first-round playoff series. The Thunder have long been eliminated from the playoffs.

Utah Jazz at Sacramento Kings, 9 p.m.

Utah’s magic number to lock up the top seed in the West is one — either a Jazz win or a Suns loss does it (Utah is one game ahead of second-seeded Phoenix, but the Suns have the tiebreaker). Phoenix plays earlier in the day, Utah will know the outcome of that game before taking the court and if it needs to win this one to keep the top seed, or if this game is meaningless.

Three takeaways from wild night where Celtics force Game 7 thanks to Derrick White


You were not alone in being stunned, blown away or whatever other description you can conjure up for the finish to Game 6. Look at the reaction from around the NBA.

The Celtics won 104-103 on a dramatic putback from Derrick White to force a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday.

Here are three takeaways from the game.

1) What. An. Ending.

When was the last time any one of us saw a game this entertaining, this dramatic? Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, highlighted by the LeBron James chase-down block on Andre Iguodala? Game 7 of the 2019 second-round series between the Raptors and 76ers, the one with Kawhi Leonard‘s corner shot that bounced around on the rim three times before falling? There are others on the list, but whatever game you choose, this one enters the conversation of all-time greats.

On a night where they struggled from 3 — 7-of-35 for the game — the Celtics were still up 10 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control. Then Boston gave it all away, slowing the pace down and not executing — or Miami seized the moment, depending on your perspective. While the Celtics got tight and struggled with their shot in those final five minutes, the Heat went on a late 15-4 run sparked primarily by Jimmy Butler (15 points in the fourth) and Duncan Robinson, with Miami attacking and pushing the pace, drawing fouls and getting to the line. It was a stunning turnaround.

Those drawing fouls included Butler drawing a three-shot foul on Al Horford with :03 seconds remaining. Butler drained all three free throws to put the Heat up one. Boston called a timeout to set up the final play, which didn’t go to plan — Marcus Smart took a turnaround 3 — but worked out thanks to Derrick White.

“I was passing it in. [Gabe] Vincent was on me, and he kind of was up top denying [Jayson Tatum], so I couldn’t get him the ball,” White said of the play. “And they did a good job of denying [Jaylen Brown], too and [Marcus] Smart flashed, hit him, and there really was nobody on me, so I just spaced to the corner, and when he shot it just tried to crash. Ball came to me, I made the shot.”

If Boston wins Game 7, White’s putback will be remembered in Boston sports lore like Dave Roberts stealing second for the Red Sox in their legendary 0-3 comeback against the Yankees. It was that kind of moment, that kind of play which capped off the wildest of nights.

2) The Heat will need more from Butler, Adebayo in Game 7

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. They were going to win because their role players stepped up — Caleb Martin (starting over Kevin Love) was the Heat’s best player on the night scoring 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

All of that made up for the fact Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not good enough for the first 43 minutes of this game. The two Heat stars shot a combined 7-of-35 up until that late run where Butler got a 3 to fall and got to the line a few times. It was almost enough, but the Heat need Butler to set a better tone in Game 7.

“Like I told the guys on the bench, I told the guys in the locker room, that if I play better, we’re not even in this position, honestly speaking,” Butler said. “And I will be better. That’s what makes me smile, because those guys follow my lead. So when I’m playing better, I think we’re playing better as a whole.”

“Jimmy leads with everything — his spirit, his soul, his competitive nature,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler pregame. “It’s all out there on his sleeves. That’s what we love about him.”

Butler looks a little tired and a little less explosive, but give the Celtics’ defense credit, they have packed the paint and cut off Butler’s drives, and their length clearly bothers his shot inside. Joe Mazzulla, who drew the wrath of Celtics fans early in this series, deserved credit for his adjustments in this series.

Butler and Adebayo have to rise above them in Game 7. Caleb Martin can not again be the best Heat player on the floor. Spoelstra is right, everything with the Heat starts with Butler and he has to summon up one more elite game.

3) Jayson Tatum owned the first half as Celtics’ best players stepped up

While Miami’s best players struggled, Boston’s best players stepped up.

At the front of that line was Jayson Tatum, who 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting with two assists in the first half. While he wouldn’t score in the second half until some free throws midway through the fourth, Tatum hit some clutch shots down the stretch and finished with 31.

Jaylen Brown added 26 points despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart finished with 21.

All of that made up for a dreadful night shooting from 3, the Celtics were 7-of-35 on the night. Shoot 20% from 3 in Game 7 and they will lose, that Boston got away with a win on an off-shooting night like that is lucky.

However, their stars are used to stepping up in elimination games, they have just done it three times in a row, and they did it in Game 7 against these same Heat a year ago. Do Boston’s stars have one more great game in them?


Watch Derrick White putback force Game 7 as Celtics edge Heat


What. A. Game.

In the best game of these playoffs — as good as one in any postseason — it looked like the Miami Heat were going to get a culture win on a night their star Jimmy Butler was off his game until the final minutes. Three Butler free throws with :03 remaining put the Heat up by one, but the Celtics got one last chance. Marcus Smart short-armed that chance, but Derrick White was hustling along the baseline.

Miami gets the 104-103 win to even the series 3-3 and force a Memorial Day Game 7 back in Boston.

This was the kind of ugly, gritty game the Celtics tend to give away. They were certainly not at their peak in this one, shooting 7-of-35 from 3 as a team — usually a stat that leads to a loss for this Celtics team, which leans into the 3-pointer.

What saved them was a brilliant first half from Jayson Tatum, some solid play from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart in the second half, and an off night at the worst time for the Heat stars.

The first half was the Tatum show as he scored 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with 11 free throws and a couple of assists. He was attacking and aggressive, and the rest of the Celtics offense flowed off that and they got the lead up to 11.

However, the Heat closed that lead down to four at the half, 57-53, thanks largely to 9-of-15 shooting from 3.

This was almost a culture win for the Heat. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were not the stars the Heat needed — they shot a combined 7-of-35 until the final minutes of the game — but the Miami role players stepped up. Caleb Martin got the start over Kevin Love and was the Heat’s best player on the night with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting plus 15 rebounds. Gabe Vincent returned from his sprained ankle to score 15, Duncan Robinson had 13 off the bench, and Max Strus added 10.

With their stars off their game the Heat struggled to score in the third, starting the quarter shooting 5-of-24 (20.8%), yet by the time the quarter was over the Heat were still only down seven. Miami was hanging around in a game they should have been blown out of.

That’s because the Celtics shot 5-of-25 from 3 through 3 quarters, plus Boston had 11 turnovers through three (compared to four for the Heat).

Tatum finished with 31 points to lead Boston, Jaylen Brown had 26 despite battling foul trouble all night, and Marcus Smart added 21.

Boston had a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter but gave it away with missed shots and sloppy play under pressure. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler hit a big 3-pointer, kept attacking, and got to the free throw line with the chance to put his team ahead in the final seconds. And did. It looked like a classic, gutty, Heat culture win.

And then Derrick White happened.

And now there is a Game 7.

Milwaukee Bucks reportedly to hire Adrian Griffin as head coach

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors
Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

Buzz had been growing for a week that Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin was the favorite Bucks coaching candidate of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Nick Nurse had his backers in the organization, but in a superstar-driven league, the wishes of players like the Greek Freak hold a lot of sway (especially with him up for a new contract in a couple of years).

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly hiring Griffin as their next head coach, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This reaction from Fred VanVleet should tell you all you need to know about how the Raptors players felt about Griffin.

This hire is a gamble by the Bucks, turning the keys of a contender over to a rookie coach, but Griffin is more than deserving of a shot. Griffin spent eight years as a role player in the NBA — after going undrafted out of Seton Hall hand having to play in the Philipines — and then got into coaching, starting as an assistant in Milwaukee from 2008-2010. Griffin is seen as a defensive-first coach with a strong player development background (he worked with Jimmy Butler in Chicago). He’s been at or near the top of the “guys who deserve a shot” list for years and was in consideration for the open Raptors job in Toronto.

Instead, he now takes over a contender, although with a roster that is getting older and more expensive fast (free agent center Brook Lopez turns 35 this year, Khris Middleton is 31 and has a $40.4 million player option, Jrue Holiday is 31 and extension eligible come the fall).

Griffin will replace Mike Budenholzer, who was let go despite winning a championship with this team in 2021. Budenholzer is a process guy and was considered too rigid and slow to make adjustments in the playoffs, and this year’s first-round elimination by the No. 8 seed Miami Heat was seen as the culmination of that (even though Antetokounmpo missed two games due to a back injury). Griffin will bring a different voice and some new looks to a Bucks team still in its championship window.

Don’t be surprised if the Bucks hire a former NBA head coach to be Griffin’s lead assistant, to give him a veteran voice as a sounding board.

Nurse had been considered one of the frontrunners for this job, but now looks like someone destined to land in Philadelphia or Phoenix.

Heat guard Gabe Vincent reportedly to play in Game 6


Officially, Heat guard Gabe Vincent is listed as questionable for a critical Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. He missed Game 5 due to a sprained ankle suffered late in Game 4 but was a partial participant in Saturday’s shootaround, according to Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel.

However, a report from Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports points to what everyone expects: Vincent will play in Game 6.

Miami needs him back if they are going to win Game 6 at home and end this series (the Heat lead the series 3-2).

Not just because Vincent has averaged 17.5 points per game this series, but because of his ball handling and shot creation. In the second half of Game 4 and through Game 5, the Celtics changed their defensive game plan, becoming aggressive at jumping passing lanes, bringing doubles on drivers, and trying to force turnovers. During the regular season the Celtics were a bottom-five team in forcing turnovers by design — they bet that their impressive one-on-one defenders could make shots difficult and so off-ball defenders largely stayed home on guys off the ball and didn’t take risks. That changed and Miami struggled to adjust in Game 5, with Kyle Lowry — starting in place of Vincent — having three costly early turnovers.

Vincent back in the lineup could help counter the Celtics’ defense. Miami also needs great games from Jimmy Butler (who looked tired in Game 5) and Bam Adebayo, who also had an off game in Boston.

The Heat want no part of a Game 7, they need to close this series out Saturday night. They need Vincent to do that.