Cavs 97, Celtics 91
Another lackluster performance from the Celtics did not affect their standing in the playoff race as the Bucks also lost on Friday night, but it seems as though the playoffs can’t come soon enough for this aging team. Paul Pierce (ankle/rest) and Kevin Garnett (ankle/rest) were both absent during Boston’s home game against the Cavaliers, and the rest of the team failed to get the job done against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference.
In a contest where both teams played lineups that were full of D-league caliber players, the most significant moment came when Avery Bradley caught an inadvertent elbow to the collarbone and had to head to the locker room in the fourth quarter. Luckily for the Celts, one of their primary ball-handlers and best on-ball defender maintains that the stinger he suffered has nothing to do with his previous shoulder injuries (underwent surgery on both shoulders last summer). After the game, Bradley told reporters, “It hurts, but I’ll be fine. It’s just a little swelling.”
The Celtics can deal with another loss to a mediocre team, but what they can’t deal with is another injury to a key player before the playoffs. This isn’t to say that the C’s will willingly throw away their remaining seven games and simply hope to stay in 7th place in the East. In fact, Garnett and Pierce are likely to return to action, possibly as soon as Sunday night’s tilt with the Wizards, in an effort to get back into game shape before the postseason.
For now, these games are nothing more than an opportunity. A chance for Shavlik Randolph, who scored a career-high 16 points to go along with seven boards on Friday, to play extended minutes. An opportunity for Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford to find their stride as members of the second unit, and a chance for Jeff Green to continue to gain confidence.
Green is undeniably “the man” whenever the Celtics are short-handed, and over the past couple weeks he has made a strong case to play starter’s minutes even after K.G. and Pierce return. Doc Rivers has only just begun to experiment with lineups that feature Green and Pierce, yet once that combination is effectively employed, it will be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.
With either the 6-foot-7-inch Pierce, or 6-foot-9 Green playing shooting guard, the C’s will automatically have a size advantage against most back courts. Of course the Miami Heat don’t have ‘most back courts,’ but if Boston faces off against the defending champions in the postseason, a Pierce/Green combination may be their best chance at defending the Heat’s own sizable combo (of James and Wade).
Bradley, Pierce, Green, Garnett, and Brandon Bass have only been on the floor together for a total of 13 minutes this year, so it is important to get the two veterans back in the rotation before the end of the season so that the Celtics can see what they have in this lineup. We shouldn’t take much stock in the results of these final few contests. However, the way the C’s play as they close the regular season should speak volumes as to their chances in the postseason, and the only way to see how the play together is to get them all back out on the court.