Considering the Celtics rested all four of their All-Stars for Monday night's road tilt with the Washington Wizards, effectively conceding the No. 2 East playoff seed to Miami in the process, the C's can't be too broken up about the way they performed in the overtime thriller that unfolded at the Verizon Center.
The C's were down to 11 players right off the bat. Make that 10, because Shaquille O'Neal is still on the mend and didn't make the trip. Make it nine, because Doc Rivers still doesn't have the trust in Avery Bradley to use him for more than six minutes. Make it eight, because Delonte West reinjured his sprained right ankle in the third quarter and didn't return.
And yet the Celtics, shorthanded and clearly overlooking the host Wizards with the playoffs looming, put up a hell of a performance in the nation's capital, going to overtime and coming within one Carlos Arroyo elbow jumper of a dramatic win.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were all watching from the bench in street clothes, but Jeff Green, Glen Davis and Jermaine O'Neal were the driving forces behind a very nice game.
"I was really proud of our guys," Rivers said. "I thought we should have won the game, and we didn't, but it was a good showing."
This was one of the crazier games of the Celtics' season. With about 2:30 left, Arroyo corralled a defensive rebound off a John Wall miss and took off for the other end. He made a corner 3 on that possession to give the Celtics the lead — it was 77-75, and that was shockingly the 12th lead change of the game. It was a series of runs — the Celtics started the game up 12-2, the Wizards went on a 16-0 run, the C's rallied 15-0 themselves. But finally at the end, the C's had a chance to finish things, and they didn't. They blew a six-point lead in the final minute.
Ordinarily, this would be heartbreaking. But for the Celtics at this juncture, it was easy to take the missed opportunity in stride. The overtime contest gave them a chance to test their reserves in a close-and-late situation.
"It can't hurt them," Rivers said. "Let's just be honest — Let's just hope Paul, Ray and Kevin are in those situations. But one of those guys may be in, and you don't know which guy it will be. You just never know."
Rivers has been known to rest his starters late in the season, but this was an interesting decision. Interesting for a few reasons. One, the C's were still very much alive in the hunt for a higher playoff seed than No. 3; two, the starters were eager to prove themselves after a couple of lopsided losses; and three, Paul Pierce was begging to play before Doc told him no.
But the coach stuck to his guns, sitting all four guys down.
"It was tough," Rivers said. "I usually don't seek out a lot of help with this — it's got to come from me all the time on this one. But I asked a lot of questions — to some players, to some coaches, to Danny [Ainge]. So this was a tough one, but it was the right one. At the end of the day for us, it's got to be about whatever's best for the team."
Now the playoffs draw closer. Rivers used Monday night as a means of preparation — the starters got it in the form of rest, the reserves got some vital game experience.
On Wednesday night, the C's host the Knicks for their regular-season finale; this weekend, they host them again for Game 1 of the East's first round. The second season is finally almost here.
The end of the first season has been pretty exciting, too.
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