How Important Is The #1 Seed To Cleveland?

The sports talk shows are rife with talk about the collapse in Cleveland—the Cavaliers’ post All-Star break woes that have now dropped them into second place in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland, at 47-26, has been passed by the Boston Celtics who are now at 48-26 as we head into the homestretch. Does it matter?

Perhaps more to the point, as a Boston Celtics fan myself, should I get excited about the possibility the C’s are going to make the NBA Finals? No one in the mainstream media gives serious credence to the notion the Cavs are going to lose anytime prior to the Finals. The discussion tends to be more about whether this indicates Cleveland will be completely overmatched by Golden State or San Antonio, as the Cavs were on Monday night in a TNT embarrassment against the Spurs. But losing to the Celtics? Or the Wizards or the Raptors? That’s not on the table.

I’m inclined to agree—in fact, there’s a part of me that wonders if the Celtics are doing me a disservice as a fan by getting into the East’s pole position. It could be just enough to raise a little bit of hope before LeBron comes walking into the Garden to drop 45 and quickly squash the hope (sorry, I’m still a little shaken by the memories of Game 6 in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals).

But we can’t ignore this simple fact—if Cleveland had the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference than all challengers would have zero chance. You’re not going to beat LeBron in a Game 7 in his house and having to close out the series in six games is an awfully tall order too (as the Celts of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett found out in 2012). However, if you can get homecourt, find a way to stretch it out seven games and have the home crowd behind you—well, there would be a chance.

I don’t want to overstate how big this chance would be. LeBron was the 2-seed in Miami in 2011 against the #1 seed Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose. King James was the 2-seed in 2014 with the Heat against the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. He was in the second seed again in 2015 when his Cavs paid a visit to Atlanta to open the conference finals. The common thread in all of these series is that LeBron’s team won and never really broke a sweat.

Having Game 7 against LeBron at home is all well and good, but all these teams found out it’s not so easy to make happen. And when the 2016 Golden State Warriors did? Well, James just went into the toughest arena in the NBA and won the biggest game in league history.

So as a Celtics fan, I’m happy with what they’re accomplishing. I’d rather have the #1 seed than not. But unfortunately, I’m not ready to challenge the consensus view—it’s not going to stop Cleveland from getting to the NBA Finals.