WALTHAM, Mass. — Rajon Rondo went to the bench for the last time in Thursday's regular season finale with more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Celtics held a comfortable lead over the Bucks, and all they needed to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs was for the Hawks to lose to the defending champion Mavericks.
The Hawks did not cooperate, beating the Mavericks easily, so the Celtics will open the playoffs Sunday night in Atlanta. The Celtics would rather be on the parquet floor of the TD Garden for Game 1, but none of them seemed concerned about hitting the road.
"We've just got to catch a flight," Rondo said. "It's still basketball. We've been a team all year regardless of where we played, we tried to bring it every night. The road doesn't bother us. It would be nice to play at home, but Atlanta deserves it. We had a couple games early where we slipped up and lost. Now we've got to move forward and just go get a win."
The Celtics have been far better at home than on the road, where their 15-18 record contributed to them losing out on home court long before Thursday's games. But they split their two games in Atlanta this season, with the loss a tight one in which the Celtics rested most of their key players.
Head coach Doc Rivers had to make decisions like that between seeding and rest numerous times down the stretch, and often his players' health gave him no decision at all. As past postseasons have shown, overall record is not as important as how well a team is playing at the beginning of the playoffs, and from that perspective Rivers saw encouraging signs in the last week.
"It would have been easier to open up at home, but we're just not," Rivers said. "We had to make tough choices, and you know, looking at Kevin [Garnett], the way he ran [Thursday], I was happy with the choice. He looked like he had his legs back, so for me, that answered the question.
"Then I looked at the scoreboard and I was hoping Dallas was winning the game so we could get everything, but listen, we've earned the road because of our record. You can look at a lot of games. We lost two in Toronto, lost a lot of games early in the year. That is the reason we are on the road."
The Hawks, like the Celtics, hit their stride after the All-Star break. Unlike the Celtics, the Hawks had their down moments in the middle of the season with a 4-9 record in February. A sensational March for Josh Smith and Joe Johnson and an impressive April by Jeff Teague helped Atlanta go 20-11 down the stretch to maintain their one-game lead over the Celtics for home court.
The Hawks earned the right to have home court advantage. Now the Celtics aim to earn the right to advance.