Celtics' preferred first-round opponent is now obvious

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By WEEI 93.7

When this whole bubble thing started it might seem odd that the Celtics should be praying to play the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs.

Sure, even before the COVID-19 hiatus they were perceived as an underachieving, somewhat dysfunctional bunch. But they had also beaten the C's in three of the teams' four meetings this season, and still carried some of the best talent in the Eastern Conference, starting with center Joel Embiid.

But now there is no question.

With their 122-119 overtime with against the Magic Sunday, the Celtics have locked in on the No. 3 seed. Now it's just a matter of which team will land at No. 6, locking in the C's opening-round matchup.

We all need something to smile about today, so here are Gordon Hayward’s daughter’s tracking his stats and adorably cheering him on pic.twitter.com/yfDTVwjvge

— Molly McGrath (@MollyAMcGrath) August 10, 2020

Right now the No. 6 seed is Philadelphia, a spot they will likely end up in by the time this play-in period ends. The Sixers have three more games -- the Suns, Raptors and Rockets. They currently sit one game in back of the Pacers and Heat, both of which carry the tie-breaker over Brett Brown's team.

So, considering Phoenix is the hottest team in the bubble and need a win to keep its playoff dreams alive, and the Rockets would seemingly be playing for some sort of seeding, the likelihood is that Philly will lock this sixth-seed thing up shortly.

The Celtics better hope so.

Brad Stevens' team should want no part of Indiana, who all of a sudden possesses the best player in the bubble, T.J. Warren. And we saw the discomfort that Erik Spoelstra and his Heat gave the Celtics last week, even without Jimmy Butler. Both teams -- who play each other twice this week -- present really uncomfortable first-round issues the C's.

The Sixers? 

We knew there was going to be no Ben Simmons. (Who is going to guard Jayson Tatum?) But now Embiid is hobbling around after injuring his ankle during the Sixers' loss to Portland Sunday. The perceived play for Philly since returning was to filter the offense through its big guy (no, not Al Horford). Now, you have team that isn't all that great on the perimeter hoping that the momentum it hasn't siphoned virtually can be found at the 11th-hour without their two-time All-Star and with the most important player putting two extra layers of tape on his ankle.

The Celtics should feel pretty good about themselves heading into this final week of the regular season. Robert Williams continues to emerge as a legitimate, and much-needed, option off the bench while the C's Big Four (Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Tatum) have offered the image of a group that can separate itself against any team.

But, just to be safe, if you're a Celtics fan ... really, really hope the Sixers lose to the Suns Tuesday afternoon.

Gordon Hayward was hot all night, but it was Jayson Tatum who delivered in crunch time to lead us to an overtime win over the Magic. pic.twitter.com/cqJHaInCoX

— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 10, 2020