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

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.