Commentary

Celtics coasting down stretch run

For Doc Rivers, rest conquers all, even with home-court advantage in play

Updated: April 23, 2012, 1:19 AM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

Four starters and a key reserve missed Friday's Celtics game in Atlanta. Three of the five -- Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus -- actually had a note from their doctor. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made the trip and were healthy enough to play, but ended up watching the Celtics' reserves lose to the Hawks.

Doc Rivers' decision to play the B Team cost the Celtics the game. He knew that going in and he's comfortable with the decision he made, even though it also could have cost the Celtics the opportunity to have home-court advantage in their first-round playoff series.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bass
Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Celtics are likely to face the Hawks in the first round, but it remains to be seen which squad will have home-court advantage.

That's all that really is at stake for the Celtics in the final week of the truncated 2011-12 season. They know they'll be the No. 4 seed. They know they will play Atlanta. What remains unknown is when and where the first game will be.

To date, Rivers has shown no desire to push for the home-court advantage, as evidenced by Friday's lineup in Atlanta. He may stick to his guns this week as well, even though the Celtics trail Atlanta by one game, own the tiebreaker and the Hawks have a difficult game at home Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Celtics have two games left, both at home, and likely need to win them both to have any hope of hosting Games 1 and 2 in the first round. On Tuesday, what once appeared to be a marquee game -- versus Miami -- could well be another exhibition-like affair. The Heat have conceded the No. 1 spot to the Chicago Bulls and can't slip to No. 3 so there's no urgency on their part. The game on Thursday is against Milwaukee, which is in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra signaled his team's intention to hold off on its pursuit of Chicago by resting both LeBron James and Chris Bosh on Saturday night against the Washington Wizards. Dwyane Wade played less than three minutes after dislocating his left index finger.

Like Rivers (and many other coaches), Spoelstra wants his big guns healthy for the playoffs and has opted for rest when need be. Wade might just sit the final week to rest his finger. James loves to play in Boston, so who can say? Bosh might as well sit. He was useless the last time the Heat were in town. Miami gains nothing with a win -- and loses nothing with a defeat.

As Wade said after the Washington game, "Second place is not a bad place to be." The Heat were the No. 2 seed last season and made it to the NBA Finals.

As for the Celtics, early reports out of Atlanta suggest that Pierce and Garnett will play Tuesday, though for how long is anyone's guess. What we don't know now, and won't likely know until Tuesday, is the status of the three Celtics who didn't play last Friday due to legitimate ailments.

Seeing Allen in a boot last week could mean he will stay on the sidelines and get the extra rest for his sore right ankle. Rondo has missed the past two games after getting roughed up in New York last Tuesday. Will he be able to go? Pietrus hasn't played since going 35 minutes on April 15 in Charlotte due to knee woes.

The Celtics are scheduled to practice on Monday -- their first workout since April 3 -- so we should have a better idea as to who will play and who won't following that session.

But one constant remains: Those who need the rest will get it. And those who don't need the rest may get it anyway. With such a short turnaround before the start of the playoffs -- possibly one day, which could be a travel day -- Rivers needs his lads to be as healthy as possible.

Home court? It would be nice, but the Celtics know they can win on the road. They've won a series without the home-court advantage (twice in 2010) and they beat Atlanta twice this season, once in Philips Arena, when they had their A Team.

The key will be Tuesday -- and not necessarily in Boston. Yes, the Celtics have to beat whatever Miami team shows up. But the Hawks have to lose one of their last two as well. Both games are at Philips Arena.

The Clippers game Tuesday looks to be the one Atlanta has the most chance of losing, given that Los Angeles is in a dogfight with the Lakers and Memphis for the No. 3 seed. The loser in that three-way battle drops to No. 5, so there's incentive for the Clippers.

The Hawks' opponent on Thursday, the Mavericks, is resting players as it coasts to the finish line, apparently content with whatever seed it gets. It could be No. 6, No. 7 or No. 8. The Celtics should be able to take care of Milwaukee, although the Bucks do have firepower with the February acquisition of Monta Ellis.

So what, precisely, can we expect this week? The Celtics pretty much need to win the two games to have any hope of staying home next weekend. Even that might not do it. As for who we'll see in a Boston uniform, stay tuned. But it might not be a bad idea to activate Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling on your fantasy team.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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