For months Doc Rivers has claimed to value health over home court advantage. Not that we didn’t believe him, but we figured that if the Celtics entered the stretch run needing one specific win to help secure home court, Rivers would make at least a slight attempt to win the outing.
The Celtics entered last night with the perfect opportunity to earn the right to host in the first round — they trailed Atlanta by one-half game for the East’s fourth-best record; a win against the Hawks would have put them in the poll position for home court with two games remaining. Yet instead of playing to win, Rivers sat everybody.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett stayed at home. Greg Stiemsma joined them in inactivity during the second half. Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus missed the outing with injuries. The result was a lineup that featured Avery Bradley, more Avery Bradley, even more Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and a few other dudes who hardly ever play more than 10 or 12 minutes. The Celtics hung around for the entire 48 minutes but couldn’t edge the Hawks on the road. And just like that, the Celtics’ chances for home court advantage in the first round are probably gone.
Resting everyone was an odd decision, not just because the Celtics gift-wrapped home court advantage for the Hawks with a bow, but also for two other reasons:
1) Their schedule was already slated to provide a solid rest before the end of the season, anyway. After the Hawks game the Celtics have three days off before meeting the Heat on Tuesday and ending the regular season at home against the Bucks.
2) A win could have helped Orlando earn the fifth seed, which would have led to an Orlando-Boston first round matchup, which would have been friggin’ awesome for Boston because DWIGHTHOWARDISN’TPLAYINGINTHEPLAYOFFS!
But instead, Rivers essentially looked at Atlanta’s bench, shrugged his shoulders, urinated in Larry Drew’s direction and told the entire Hawks roster, “We don’t respect you enough to believe we need home court in the first round. If we’re healthy, we’re 100 percent confident you aren’t good enough to beat us.”
To Rivers, last night wasn’t about winning home court or hoping to meet Dwight-less Orlando or even trying to beat the opponent on the schedule. It was entirely about preparing the Celtics for the playoffs. He’s clearly confident the Celtics can beat either Atlanta or Orlando anywhere, any time, as long as the Celtics are healthy. The Celtics are cocky, they are proud, they think they’re good enough to waltz into Atlanta and win a Game 7 on the road if it comes to that. If I’m an Atlanta Hawk, that attitude would piss me off and give me extra motivation if the two teams do indeed meet again. But for the Celtics, getting healthy is more important. They’ve done this before, winning playoff series on the road. But they need to enter the playoffs reasonably close to full strength, they need to get Rondo and Allen back, and preferably Pietrus, and they need KG and Pierce to continue playing as well as they have been.
Doc Rivers is confident in his team. He loves its mental makeup. He realizes that KG, Pierce and Rondo are functioning as well as a unit as they have during the entire Big Three era. He trusts his bench in crucial minutes. Bradley has emerged as a growing monster. Allen could provide an extra punch off the bench the Celtics haven’t had in years.
Maybe Rivers’ decision will backfire and the Celtics will fall in round one. I’d guess not. Either way the coach’s message was sent, and it was loud and clear: The Celtics aren’t at all worried about the Hawks or Magic.