The Celtics were making a statement: The Miami Heat can have second place. It wasn't worth fighting for anymore. Coach Doc Rivers decreed that a few days of rest for his veteran starters would be a bigger priority than trying to climb one rung in the standings in the season's final days.
Boston's leftovers made a game of it, losing 95-94 Monday night to the lottery-bound Washington Wizards. The result, along with Miami's 98-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks, guaranteed that the Heat will be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference while the Celtics will be No. 3, drawing a first-round playoff matchup with the sixth-seeded New York Knicks.
Rivers called it a difficult decision to sit his stars, one that involved everyone from general manager Danny Ainge on down, and one that surely will leave him open to second-guessing if the results fall a certain way.
"I usually don't seek out -- it comes from me all the time -- but this was one where I asked a lot of questions to some players, all our coaches, to Danny, so this was a tough one, but this was the right one," Rivers said. "At the end of the day for us, it's got to be right for our team and whatever's best for our team, even over seeding."
Rivers said his mind was made up after the Celtics were blown out 100-77 by the Heat on Sunday, a loss that put Boston behind Miami in the race for second. The coach will also sit the bulk of his top players in Wednesday's regular season finale against the Knicks, giving his veterans a three-day mental break to set them up for three good days of practices Thursday through Saturday before the playoffs start.
He said his message will be: "Just reset yourself. Reset the team."
"Mostly it's mental, all the time, with anybody on any team," Rivers said. "They're the best conditioned athletes in the world, so I don't believe in the whole getting-tired theory unless you're allowing yourself to get tired. They just need the rest. And the break. The whole reason is it allows us to have practice with energy, and we need that more than anything."
The beneficiaries were the Wizards, who were able to claim a successful home finale in another losing season. John Wall led the way with 24 points, nine rebounds and three assists.
"We kind of took it as that they was trying to disrespect us and not trying to play the other guys," Wall said, "so we wanted to come out and fight."
Jordan Crawford scored 17 points, including the jumper that sent the game to overtime and the 3-pointer that gave Washington the lead for good in the extra period. Andray Blatche added 16 points before fouling out in overtime.
"There's no question when they take out a couple of their guys, you kind of relax," Washington coach Flip Saunders said. "I told our guys: 'We're not going to feel sorry because we've got six guys sitting in suits over there."
Jeff Green scored 20 points and tied his career high with 15 rebounds in his first Celtics start. Glen Davis also had 20 points. Jermaine O'Neal, who needed the playing time after missing much of the season with a sore knee, had seasons highs in points (15), rebounds (13) and minutes (37). Delonte West had 11 points, five assists and five rebounds before leaving with a sprained right ankle in the third quarter -- the same injury that cost him eight games earlier in the season.
Rivers said he didn't have an update on West's injury.
The game featured wild swings and had the feel of an exhibition played at the end of training camp. The Celtics had runs of 10-2 and 15-0; the Wizards pulled off spurts of 16-0 and 11-0. Boston led by six inside the final minute, but Crawford's 16-foot baseline jumper with 5.4 seconds to go in regulation sent the game to overtime.
The extra period had some laughable sequences, the most absurd coming when Boston's Von Wafer missed a wide-open dunk down the middle of the lane. Wafer celebrated by posing for the crowd -- he thought the ball went in -- and then bumped into O'Neal, causing O'Neal to commit a blatant double-dribble after grabbing the rebound.
At that point, Rivers could have been forgiven for looking down the bench to figure out a way to get someone such as Allen or Pierce into the game.
"No, our guys got us there," Rivers said, "so we should have taken care of it."
Crawford's 3-pointer broke a tie with 39 seconds to play. O'Neal made a basket to cut the deficit to one, but Carlos Arroyo missed a potential game-winning 18-foot jump shot at the final buzzer.
The Celtics' lineup included Wafer, making his first start of the season. West made his second start. Green got the starting nod for the first time since arriving from Oklahoma City via trade in February. Rivers said Shaquille O'Neal, who hasn't played since April 3 because of a strained right calf, wouldn't have played Monday or Wednesday regardless of the standings.
Pierce and Allen had been the only two Celtics to play in every game this season. ... The Wizards finished 20-21 at home. ... Wall and Blatche scored all 19 of Washington's points in the first quarter. ... Rivers had a good laugh over the criticism the Celtics have received for trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. "Like I jokingly told Perk, he should renegotiate again," Rivers said. "His value keeps increasing by each loss. It's amazing." Seriously, Rivers cited Boston's record without Perkins and said the criticism over the trade is "silly." ... It was bound to happen: The Wizards played the trumpet sound that urges the fans to yell "Charge!" -- and, right on cue, Blatche plowed into a Celtics player and was called for a charge.
Armed with high-value draft picks, low-cost young talent and salary-cap flexibility, there's potential for the Celtics to sign a true impact player.
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