BOSTON — The Celtics had nothing to gain or lose in the seedings on Tuesday, and with both them and the Miami Heat holding many of their star players out of the penultimate game of the regular season, it meant very little in terms of bragging rights. Just don't call the game meaningless.
The game was far from meaningless when Sasha Pavlovic scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter to turn an 11-point deficit in the third quarter into a 78-66 Celtics win. It was not meaningless when Marquis Daniels deflected a pass and strolled downcourt for a two-handed dunk to give Boston the lead for good. It was not meaningless when rookie E'Twaun Moore, who a week ago wondered how long he would have to wait to show off his abilities, drained a 3-pointer to assure the victory.
"We've got guys over here who are eager to play," said Keyon Dooling, who scored seven points in 19 minutes off the bench. "We haven't gotten a lot of minutes throughout the year, so these games are very important to us. We're focused on team goals, but individually as players you want to play well when you get your opportunity. For the most part, everybody did."
The Celtics' role players have a lot to play for, both individually and for the team, as they trudge toward the finish line of the regular season. While the Celtics are locked into the fourth seed, Dooling and company kept alive Boston's chances of holding home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, which the Celtics can secure with a win and an Atlanta loss on Thursday.
In addition to Ray Allen's continued absence due to loose bodies in his right ankle, Kevin Garnett, Mickael Pietrus, Rajon Rondo and Greg Stiemsma sat out Tuesday's game, while the Heat held out Chris Bosh, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. None of those players still needs to prove he belongs in the postseason rotation, though. Only 12 players can be active in the playoffs, and while the team can change its active list from game to game, there is little chance for an inactive player to prove he belongs on the 12-man roster if he never gets a chance to play.
Thus, Tuesday's game had meaning for everyone who suited up for the Celtics. Head coach Doc Rivers was so pleased with the play of Daniels and Pavlovic in particular that he brought up the names of two past reserves with a championship pedigree.
"It's good timing," Rivers said. "We need it. You know, Sasha and Marquis may be very similar to the role that Baby [Glen Davis] and Leon [Powe] played. They push each other, and that could be good for us."
The game started ugly, with Paul Pierce struggling to get into a flow with a lineup that did not include any of the four players he started alongside back on Dec. 30. The Celtics shot 4-for-17 in the first quarter and had seven turnovers to only two assists, trailing the similarly understaffed Heat 17-10 at the end of the first 12 minutes.
The Celtics outscored the Heat in every quarter after that, though, culminating in the 28-point outburst in the final quarter. The approach in the last quarter was straightforward.
"We found Sasha," Daniels said. "Sasha got hot. He started making big shots, E'Twaun, and things just started rolling for us."
Pavlovic may have quietly played himself into the bottom of the Celtics' playoff rotation. Teams generally shorten their rotations to eight or nine players, and Pietrus, Stiemsma and Allen (assuming he is healthy) would presumably be the first three players off the bench for the Celtics. At 6-foot-7 with the ability to hit an open shot and play solid defense, Pavlovic could end up being the surprise player who contributes at some point in a long series.
Yet Pavlovic did not approach Tuesday's game as an audition.
"Every time I'm out there I just try to show something," Pavlovic said. "I'm just playing as hard as I can, and that's the only thing that's going to keep me in there with this team. It's about playing defense hard, helping, rebounding and, when I'm open, to make shots. That's all I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to prove anything right now. Whenever my name's called, I'm trying to stay ready."
By staying ready, Pavlovic and his teammates gave Tuesday's game meaning for the Celtics' playoff logistics. They may also have helped their own cases to be a part of the team's postseason game plan as well.