The Heat won and the Celtics lost, which means the Knicks will head to Boston in the first round. The Leprechauns ceded the game, resting four of their elderly starters for the playoffs.
Even in a game that went to overtime, the most interesting spectacle was the quartet of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo sitting on the Boston Celtics’ bench.
The Celtics were making a statement: The Miami Heat can have second place. It wasn’t worth fighting for anymore. Coach Doc Rivers decreed that a few days of rest for his veteran starters would be a bigger priority than trying to climb one rung in the standings in the season’s final days.
Boston’s leftovers made a game of it, losing 95-94 Monday night to the lottery-bound Washington Wizards. The result, along with Miami’s 98-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks, guaranteed that the Heat will be the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference while the Celtics will be No. 3, drawing a first-round playoff matchup with the sixth-seeded New York Knicks.
Rivers said his mind was made up after the Celtics were blown out 100-77 by the Heat on Sunday, a loss that put Boston behind Miami in the race for second. The coach will also sit the bulk of his top players in Wednesday’s regular season finale against the Knicks, giving his veterans a three-day mental break to set them up for three good days of practices Thursday through Saturday before the playoffs start.
Kevin Pelton weighs in on the Knicks best opponent in the playoffs, based on New York’s improved free throw and two point shooting.
One big turnaround New York has made lately has been at the free throw line. During the 10-game down stretch, the Knicks gave up an average of 0.8 more free throws per game than they attempted. In the winning streak, New York has been spending more time at the line, averaging 3.3 more attempts per game than its opponents. Since adding Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks have excelled at drawing fouls, posting the league’s fourth-best ratio of made free throws per field goal attempts.
Miami takes 4.0 more free throws per game than opponents, while the Celtics tend to be more prone to fouling and have a deficit of 0.8 free throw attempts per game this season. Despite Boston’s edge in experience, the Celtics look like the more favorable opponent for the Knicks.
Back in March, Ryan DeGama talked about a Celtics-Knicks series:
- Key Matchups: Paul Pierce vs. Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudamire vs. Kevin Garnett, Mike D’Antoni’s offense vs Boston’s playoff defense.
- Best Case Scenario: Boston’s defense unspools the New York offense until ‘Melo and Amare both try to prove they’re the King of New York by jacking up 20 shots apiece. Celtics cruise in four games.
- Worst Case Scenario: Knicks build chemistry by the playoffs, and ride big city energy to early series lead, forcing Boston to empty the chamber to pull the thing out in 6 or 7 games.
- Entertainment Factor: Off the charts. Two of the best games of the season have been against New York. Paul Pierce has an ongoing anti-romance with the MSG crowd that could blossom into something deliciously hateful in a playoff environment. Bill Walker could make his triumphant return to sitting on the TD Garden bench in his warmup suit, glowing with untapped upside potential. Media members could regale us with endless stories about New York’s basketball renaissance, followed by cutaways to Isiah Thomas cavorting in a luxury box with James Dolan and Dwight Howard’s extended family. Plus, there’s always the possibility of Mikhail Prokhorov buying up all the in-arena MSG signage to advertise Nets season tickets.
- Must-watch halftime segment: Charles Barkley accompanies Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal on their tour of NYC street food vendors.