Scrubbing up for the playoffs
Backups generate a victory in finale
The Celtics left the court at the Staples Center last June 17 unsure if they would get back to the NBA Finals. That night, Boston lost Game 7 to the Lakers.
Today the Celtics begin their postseason march back to the Finals. Boston ended the regular season with a 112-102 victory last night against the Knicks, their first-round postseason opponent beginning Sunday.
“I think this is what our guys have been playing for all year,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “You know, when you lose a Game 7 it sticks with you and that’s very difficult to get back through the regular season because the whole season you’re thinking about, ‘Gosh, we’ve got to go through 82 of these just to have a chance to get back to where were last year’ and now all that part is gone. And now we can start trying to get back to and finish the job.’’
Fans at the TD Garden watched Boston’s bench players handle the finale as rookie guard Avery Bradley scored a game-high 20 points to help the Celtics finish at 56-26.
Both teams sat most of their starters as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo were given the night off for the second consecutive game. Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte West, and Jermaine O’Neal also sat out. For the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups did not suit up.
However, Knicks forward Amar’e Stoudemire played 20 minutes and collected 14 points and four rebounds. Stoudemire welcomed the time on the court since he missed three straight games with a sprained ankle.
That left both teams with a host of players looking for a chance to make one more impression before the postseason begins. Bradley, who averages 4 1/2 minutes a game, played a season-high 27. He was one of six Celtics in double figures. Sasha Pavlovic converted 4 of 5 3-pointers and added 19 points. Glen Davis chipped in 17 points.
The playoffs can’t come fast enough for Davis.
“There’s something about the postseason that I love, man,’’ Davis said. “You’ve got to bring your A game.’’
Nicked for Knicks Stumbling into the playoffs may not be new for the Celtics, but one thing that feels a little different for Rivers is the health factor of his team.
The Celtics enter the playoffs with a few players battling nagging injuries, and just how much they will be able to contribute in the first round remains to be seen. The Celtics will have a few days to figure it out.
“Obviously, as far as knowing what we’re doing healthwise and workwise, last year was easier because we had a plan,’’ Rivers said. “Everybody was healthy but they just weren’t playing yet, but we were working on stuff.
“This year, the season ended for everyone with a lot of games, very few practice times, and a lot of injuries. That’s been a big difference.’’
The highest profile of the bunch is Shaquille O’Neal, who has missed the last six games with an aggravated calf muscle. On Monday, Celtics president Danny Ainge said it was possible that O’Neal would return to practice today or tomorrow in hopes of being ready for Game 1.
Rivers echoed that sentiment yesterday but said, “It’s too early to tell.’’
The Celtics also will be keeping an eye on West, who sprained his right ankle against the Wizards Monday. It was the same ankle that gave West trouble earlier this season.
West stepped in front of Wizards center JaVale McGee on a fast break, causing a collision, and West was slow to get up. He didn’t return.
West said he immediately was anxious about how badly he injured his ankle.
“It’s like a jammed finger,’’ he said. “It lingers and then it finally goes away and then you hit again and the pain comes back all over again.’’
West is wearing a brace and soaking his foot in an ice bath to help with the recovery. He said there was a little bit of swelling in the ankle but he was optimistic he would be ready for Sunday.
“It’s all hands on deck now,’’ said West, who wanted to play last night but was held out. “There’s no excuses.’’
Jermaine O’Neal, who had arthroscopic knee surgery in February, also may be working his way back into the rotation. He played 37 minutes against the Wizards and had 13 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Monday’s game was the second of back-to-backs for O’Neal, and he didn’t need treatment the next day.
“He knew more than the coaches,’’ said Rivers, “because I didn’t want to play him in the game and he thought he needed to play in the back-to-back. It was more about his rhythm.’’
The 12th man With West hurt, Carlos Arroyo got the start last night, one of a handful of bench players competing for the 12th spot on the roster for Game 1.
Last night, Arroyo played 29 minutes and collected 6 points and four assists.
Before the game, Rivers wasn’t ready to establish anyone as the front-runner for the spot, but he said the rules allow him to be flexible.
Green is ripening Jeff Green isn’t taking his minutes for granted. Against the Wizards, he played 47:03 and had 20 points. The time on the court is helping him grow more comfortable with the Celtics.
Green had another productive game last night, chipping in 14 points and eight rebounds in 34 minutes. Green’s speed and 6-foot-9-inch, 235-pound frame is viewed as an advantage in defending some of the Knicks and he capitalized on some of those chances last night.
“I thought the minutes [last night] just helped him kind of get comfortable,’’ Rivers said.
Green and Nenad Krstic (13 points in 25 minutes) were acquired from Oklahoma City before the trade deadline Feb. 24. With the numerous changes to the roster, Green said, there haven’t been many practice opportunities.
The Knicks are in a similar situation as far as working in new players, and Rivers said neither team will have an advantage.
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.