Big Four sit, Celtics fall to Wizards, 95-94

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Big Four sit, Celtics fall to Wizards, 95-94

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WASHINGTON For weeks, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said playoff seeding means little to him if it comes at the cost of having a healthy roster heading into the playoffs.

Rivers backed his words up with his actions on Monday, opting to sit his Big Four - Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - in a game that the Celtics needed to win in order to keep their hopes of securing the No. 2 seed alive.

Those hopes were dashed following a 95-94 overtime loss at Washington that locks the Celtics into the No. 3 seed where they will face the New York Knicks who clinched the No. 6 seed with Philadelphia's home loss to Orlando.

Game One of the first-round series between Boston and New York is expected to be Sunday at the TD Garden.

The Celtics had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds, but Carlos Arroyo's last-second jumper was off the mark.

We have seen Boston's core group have their struggles at times in closing out games.

It was more of the same with the team's second and third units.

"We made so many blunders down the stretch," Rivers said. "But they didn't do it because they weren't playing hard. It's tough for a coach to blame a team. They played extremely hard."

But they didn't always play smart, which was evident by the late-game turnovers, defensive breakdowns and inability to close out a Washington Wizards team that has been among the NBA's worst this season.

"You can play hard, but you have to play smart, too," Rivers said. "I thought we covered the first part of that. I didn't think we covered the second part of that very much."

However, having so many backups on the floor in one game allowed Rivers to get a better feel for who might be able to contribute who is not currently part of the Celtic's core group.

One of the better performers for Boston was Jermaine O'Neal.

Since he came back from left knee surgery, O'Neal has been a relatively solid defender.

On Monday, O'Neal had 15 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double as a Celtics player. Boston also got a strong game from Jeff Green who also had his first double-double with the Green team, tallying 20 points and a career-high tying 15 rebounds.

"There were a lot of good things that came out of this game," Rivers said.

However, the Celtics did suffer yet another injury to a key performer, as Delonte West suffered a right ankle injury in the third quarter. West's early exit certainly had an impact on the game's outcome.

But for Boston, Monday wasn't about winning or losing.

It was about survival.

Prior to the game, the C's knew that a victory would have kept alive their chances of moving up in the playoff seedings ahead of the Heat. Although Miami had a one-game lead over Boston, the Celtics hold the tie-breaker so a win by Boston on Monday would have meant the Heat had to win at Toronto on Wednesday in order to secure the No. 2 seed.

Rivers admitted that the decision to sit guys against the Wizards was not an easy one to make.

"I usually don't seek out . . . it's gotta come from me, but on this one, I asked a lot of questions to our players, coaches, Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations . . . so this was a tough one," Rivers said. "But it was the right decision. Because at the end of the day, for us it has to be about our team and what's best for our team, even over seeding."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.