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

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

Stevens on Thomas' groin injury: 'It’s important that he’s 100 percent'

There’s no such thing as a good time to have an injury. 

But in terms of Isaiah Thomas being sidelined with a right groin injury and the schedule awaiting the Boston Celtics … this is about as bad a time as you can imagine to be without their scoring leader.

Thomas returned to Boston ahead of tonight’s game at Orlando, marking his first game missed since the 2014-2015 season. 

He suffered a right groin injury in the second quarter of Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday. 

At the time, Thomas was optimistic that he would be able to play tonight. But with a day off from practice, the soreness proved to be too much for Thomas to suit up and play tonight. 

While it’s unclear just how severe his groin injury is, the Celtics are likely to be overly cautious (like they are with most injuries) about his return which may result in him missing more games than Wednesday night’s matchup against Orlando. 

“Those things (groin injuries) are a little unpredictable,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters earlier today. “Especially in this sport, you have to be able to stop and change direction on a dime, especially him. It’s important that he’s 100 percent.”

Stevens is spot-on when he talks about how uncertain a return for Thomas is currently. 

New York’s Kristaps Porzingis suffered a groin injury against the Celtics in a preseason game back in October that didn’t result in anything more than him missing a day of practice. 

It was a different story when Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic suffered a right groin injury last spring (March 7-29) that sidelined him for 13 games. 

The timetable for Thomas’ return to the floor is likely to fall somewhere within those two timetables which would make an already daunting stretch of games even more difficult. 

Following tonight’s game, Boston has 12 games remaining in the month of December with nine being against teams with a winning record. And of the three games against teams below-.500 (Miami twice, Indiana), two of them are on the road. 

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

Marcus Smart will get start for Celtics for injured Isaiah Thomas

As expected, Marcus Smart will get the start for the Boston Celtics tonight against the Orlando Magic in place of the injured Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas, who leads the Celtics (12-9) in scoring (26.0) and assists (6.2) this season, suffered a right groin injury in Boston’s 107-106 loss at Houston on Monday.

Head coach Brad Stevens explained his decision a few minutes ago.

“He’s started a lot of games here in the past as a point guard,” Stevens told reporters. “He’s basically our sixth starter. It wasn’t one that I had to think a ton about.”

Starting Smart also allows second-year guard Terry Rozier to continue in his role coming off the bench. 

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, Smart’s production has been consistent. 

In the five games he has started this season, he has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. 

His numbers off the bench are almost identical with Smart averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists as a reserve. 

Stevens also mentioned that Amir Johnson would be back in the starting lineup in place of Jonas Jerebko. Earlier in the day, Stevens told reporters the decision to start Jerebko on Monday was strictly because of the matchup with Houston. 

“We have to be able to be flexible in doing that,” Stevens said. “Houston plays four guards. We didn’t feel like we could defend them unless we switch one through four. I thought he (Jerebko) did a pretty good job. This (Orlando) team is different than Houston other than both are super-hot.”

Orlando (10-12) has won four of its last five games in part because of its size, strength and versatility along the frontline which includes Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic who now comes off the bench. 

And while the Celtics have benefited heavily from the play of their guards, obviously that plan will be amended tonight with Thomas out. 

“He (Thomas) generates a lot in the open offense what we call flow, spread offense,” Stevens said. “So some of those type of things you may not generate at the same rate. But certainly there are other ways that we’ll look to play when he’s not in the game normally, or when we’re trying to play through bigs in the post. You have different ways to play within all your schemes. Hopefully we can play to each other’s strengths and go from there.”