Celtics beat Bucks in regular-season finale
BOSTON – Throughout the closing days of the regular season, the Celtics’ brass made it clear homecourt advantage in a first-round series with the Hawks was no big deal and that it was more important to rest their aging legs.
Now, they’re going to find out just how important that home floor will be.
Both the Celtics and the Hawks won their regular-season finales Thursday night, when an Atlanta loss and Boston win would have given home court to Boston in the best-of-seven series that opens Sunday night. The Celtics, by virtue of their Atlantic Division title, are actually the No. 4 seed, while Atlanta is No. 5, but the Hawks finished a game better and get home floor.
“Honestly, it would have been easier to open up at home, but we’re just not,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his team beat the out-of-the-playoffs Bucks, 87-74, Thursday night. “We had to make tough choices, you know. Looking at Kevin (Garnett), the way he ran today (in an 11-minute tuneup), I was happy with the choice. He looked like his legs were back (he had a hip problem).”
Boston doesn’t enter the playoffs completely healthy, with Ray Allen’s ankle a potential problem and Paul Pierce spraining his left big toe Thursday night. But Pierce is expected to play, and the Hawks are still missing big man Al Horford, who is recovering from surgery to repair his left pectoral muscle.
The Celtics and Hawks split two games in Atlanta during the abbreviated regular season, with Boston taking the only game on its home floor.
“We know the Hawks pretty well and they know us,” said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, who returned from a three-game absence (back spasms) and had 15 assists and no points in Boston’s 13th win in their last 14 home games. “It’s going to be a tough matchup.”
Rondo, the Celtics’ first NBA assist leader since Bob Cousy won his eighth league title in a row in 1959-60, became the first NBA player since 1984 to go scoreless with at least 15 assists in a game.
“He just needed his wind, that’s why we played him (25 minutes),” said Rivers. “He’s been sitting the longest of the group, so we were just getting the wind. And I was really happy with Kevin, too. He looks spry again.”
Rondo was passing at will, recording his club-record 24th straight double-figure assist game (he had 12 in the first half).
Asked about being the first Celtic since the immortal Cousy to lead the league in assists, Rondo said, “It means a lot. Cousy has always had great things to say about me. I would be honored if he would present me with the ball if I get one.”
As far as his 15 Thursday night, Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles said, “I don’t know if he can get 15 assists in 25 minutes in a playoff game. There are going to be better defensive teams in the playoffs. He made it look pretty easy.
“He plays at his pace, even if you’re doing a good job, it’s hard to get it out of his pace. That’s the pace he plays at. He’s always seen the floor well and he made some nice passes.”
Milwaukee’s Jon Leuer, who had 15 points and eight rebounds, was impressed with Boston.
“Defensively, they’re a championship-caliber team. And that’s why they’re a contender,” he said. “They have that emphasis on the defensive end and that’s why it’s hard to score on them.”
Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 14 points and Pierce had 12 in just six minutes, leaving with the toe problem two minutes into the game (after scoring the game’s first five points).
He came back and played later in the half and came out of the locker room at halftime, only to go back to the locker room.
“He wanted to come back and just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose,’” said Rivers. “So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in.
“I mean, listen, we’re banged up. I’m hoping everybody is.”
Tobias Harris led the Bucks, who finished 31-35, with 16 points and nine rebounds.
NOTES: San Antonio’s John Lucas had 24 assists and no points in a game against Denver April 15, 1984. … On Wednesday, Rivers, asked about Allen and his troublesome ankle, said, “I think Ray will be ready (for Sunday). I don’t know that. I do think he will be ready. But if he’s not, someone else has to be.” Thursday, the word “probable” was floating around. … The final game of the regular season meant Fan Appreciation Night at TD Garden, with Boston rookie JaJuan Johnson addressing the crowd with a few words before the opening tipoff. … Before the game, Celtics VP of media services Jeff Twiss was presented with the second Bobby Vines Award for service to the organization.