BOSTON For weeks, Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics talked about home court advantage the same way they talked about winning the Atlantic Division - it'd be nice, but not a necessity.
For most of this season, the Celtics' main guys carried them to the division title. But on Tuesday, it was the reserves positioning them for a shot at beginning the playoffs at home with a 78-66 win over the Miami Heat.
The Celtics have maintained that rest will come before a strong run towards trying to secure home court advantage.
And rest was indeed in order on Tuesday for both Boston and Miami.
The Heat gave their Big Three - LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - the night off. Boston countered with giving Kevin Garnett the night off, although his rest was in part because of a sore hip flexor injury. Boston was already planning to play without Ray Allen, whose right ankle injury is still sore. In addition, the C's also played without Rajon Rondo (back), Greg Stiemsma (feet) and Mickael Pietrus (right knee).
Boston was led by Sasha Pavlovic's 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting. The C's also got a strong game from Marquis Daniels off the bench with 13 points and five rebounds. Miami got 11 points from James Jones off the bench.
As for home court, it's pretty simple.
A win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday coupled with an Atlanta loss to the Dallas Mavericks would result in the C's and Hawks having an identical 39-27 record with the tie-breaker - and home court advantage - going to the Celtics.
The Celtics didn't look like a team headed for a blowout victory, with the first points not coming until Paul Pierce hit a 10-footer with 5:45 to play in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics trailing,17-10.
Boston opened the second with an 8-0 run to take their first lead of the game, a spurt that was sparked by Marquis Daniels who had eight points and five rebounds at the half.
However, the Heat backups, led by James Jones, regained the lead and went into the half ahead, 34-28.
It remained a low-scoring affair in the third quarter, but the C's were able to make the game even closer and went into the fourth tied at 50.
And with the win, Boston has positioned itself for the playoffs to start here at the Garden.
"Home court is great," said C's Paul Pierce. "You want to have home court, you want to play for home court. At the end of the day, we want to be healthy first. We're definitely a better home team than road team, but at this point we feel like if we're healthy we have a chance in anybody's building. We've shown we can beat anybody in the Eastern Conference in their building."
HOT SHOT: Sasha Pavlovic had the hot hand when it mattered most for Boston, leading all scorers with 16 points - 12 of which came in the fourth quarter. "If I'm wide open I shouldn't be hesitant," Pavlovic said. "And that's what I'm trying to do. The most important thing with me, just don't think and shoot the ball when I'm wide open."
IN-N-OUT: It has been awhile since Avery Bradley had a dud of a game shooting, so he was more than due for a night like this. He finished with eight points, but missed eight of his 10 shots from the field. Like Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass, Bradley never looked comfortable playing without the usual cast in the starting lineup.
"I just kept saying, 'the quicker we get the starters off the floor, the better the chance we have to win the game,'" Rivers said. "And the reason is, I thought mentally it was very challenging for them. Brandon, Avery and Paul. I really did. I just thought they looked around and they didn't see anyone out there and they were just trying to do more stuff."
SUPER SUB: Marquis Daniels came up with another strong night off the bench for the Celtics, delivering the kind of all-around game that the C's haven't seen nearly enough of this season. He had 13 points, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot. "It's good timing," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We need it."
TURNING POINT: Leading 60-56, the Celtics got a driving dunk followed by a 3-pointer from Sasha Pavlovic that put the C's ahead by nine points. Boston's control of the game was never in doubt afterward.
QUOTE OF NOTE: "Well, someone had to win the game. And we did, which was really nice." - Celtics head coach Doc Rivers.