BOSTON — Doc Rivers has been asked several times over the past few weeks about how closely he is following his team’s position in the standings. When the query was posed again Friday after the Celtics’ loss to the Cavaliers, Rivers jokingly rolled his eyes.
“How many times do I have to answer this?” he asked, putting up his hands and looking around the interview room at TD Garden.
Every time he has been asked, Rivers has given some variation of the same clichéd response: He is not paying attention to the standings. He does not care what the Celtics’ seed is, as long as they are in the top eight. He has no preference for a first-round opponent. And so on.
Rivers started to give the same sort of answer on Friday when he was asked once again whether he has checked the playoff picture, but he gave away a little wrinkle at the end.
“I do, but I really don’t,” Rivers said. “I know we’re in the seventh spot. I know we want to stay out of the eighth spot.”
For weeks, outside observers have stated that obvious fact. The Celtics — or anybody, for that matter — should try to avoid playing the Heat early in the postseason at all costs. The company line within the Celtics’ locker room, though, is that they do not care who they play and will bring their all against any opponent — yada yada yada.
Rivers was not beating around the bush. Like any sane human being, he wants to stay out of Miami’s path for as long as possible.
“Yeah, of course we would,” Rivers said. “But if we play them, we’ll be ready. Listen, I’m not that dumb. I’m not the brightest guy, but come on. But no matter who we play, we’re going to play a tough team. It’s going to be Indiana, New York or Miami. There’s going to be no cakewalks for us. It’s going to be hard.”
Jason Terry also does not want to see the Heat in the first round, but his reasons were more practical.
“If you fall to the eighth spot, it means you’ve been losing,” Terry said. “We want to go into the playoffs on a winning note, feeling good about ourselves and our game. Regardless of who we play, we want to be healthy mentally and physically going into the playoffs.”
Of course, Terry could not hide the fact that he wants another piece of the Heat. Few players despise Miami as much as Terry, who faced off against the Heat twice in the Finals and had an infamous run-in with a dunking LeBron James last month. No 27-game win streak is going to dissuade Terry from taking on a challenge from the South Beach Big Three.
As is his character, Terry issued the equivalent of a schoolyard challenge to James and the Heat, the bullies of the Eastern Conference.
“I don’t care when we play them,” Terry said. “We could play them in summer league, rec league, whatever. That’s a special rivalry for me and should be for everybody else in this locker room. At one point or another, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we will play them.”
Sure, the Celtics want to play the Heat. They would just prefer to do it later rather than sooner.