BOSTON — The fans’ passion eventually shone through, even if it took a while to do so. The Orlando Magic, minus Dwight Howard, were a lot less intimidating than usual, and it took some time for the TD Garden crowd to be convinced that, yes, this was an actual NBA game.
Finally, when old buddy Glen Davis stole the ball and dunked it with 11.6 seconds left to cut Boston’s deficit to two points, they snapped out of it. When Paul Pierce drained a 16-foot jump shot to help seal the 102-98 victory on Wednesday night, everyone was reminded why the Celtics are so difficult to beat at home when the games matter.
“We don’t ever expect to lose in this building,” Celtics center Greg Stiemsma said.
That confidence leads to a quandary for the Celtics in the final three games of the regular season. The fourth seed is locked up, by way of winning the Atlantic Division title, but home-court advantage in the opening series remains in doubt. Home court goes to the team with the better record, so the best-of-seven series may open in Atlanta or Orlando. The Celtics trail the Hawks by one game in the loss column, and improved to 22-9 at home with the victory over the Magic, compared to 15-17 on the road. They have lost one home game since Feb. 15.
But there is also the not-so-minor issue of health, which as you may have noticed is not going so well for the Celtics. Rajon Rondo missed Wednesday’s game with back spasms, Ray Allen‘s ankle sidelined him again and Mickael Pietrus spent his second straight game on the bench with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee.
If the Celtics push themselves too hard in closing the season against the Hawks, Heat and Bucks — all playoff contenders — it may leave them worn down when the playoffs begin a week from Saturday. They could even wind up with worse, like a major injury to a healthy rotation player.
On Wednesday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers repeated the mantra he has used for the last month whenever he has been asked to weigh health against home court.
“If you can get [home court] it’s great, but health and rest, if I’m going to choose, I’m clearly going to go with rest and health,” Rivers said.
Rivers has managed to get some rest for his regulars in the past week. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett sat out Sunday’s game in Charlotte, and Rondo is expected to be held out of Friday’s game in Atlanta as a precaution. Pietrus was in the locker room on Wednesday, walking around with no obvious discomfort, so his absence is not expected to be for long. A three-day break after Friday’s game will also afford some time for players like Stiemsma, Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass, who have punched in and punched out with regularity since the All-Star break, to recuperate.
The ruling is in, and the Celtics have chosen health. Home court is there for the taking, though, and the prospect is still inviting.