Celtics wait to learn next opponent

Doc Rivers spent the regular season trying to get his aging

Boston veterans rest.

In the playoffs, the Big Thirtysomethings of Kevin Garnett, Paul

Pierce and Ray Allen took care of it for themselves – and

39-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, too.

The Celtics got another day off on Tuesday, two days after

beating the New York Knicks 101-89 to complete their first-round

sweep. Boston is waiting to learn its second-round playoff

opponent; the most likely opponent is the Miami Heat, who hold a

3-1 series lead over the Philadelphia 76ers heading into Wednesday

night’s Game 5.

”We haven’t swept a team in a long time,” point guard Rajon

Rondo said. ”It is a good feeling to get some rest.”

The Celtics have reached the NBA finals twice in the three years

since the new Big Three was assembled, winning it all in 2008. But

they hadn’t swept a team since beating the Indiana Pacers in three

straight in the first round of the 1992 playoffs – the last

postseason series win in Larry Bird’s career before he retired.

In ’08, Boston managed to win an unprecedented 17th championship

after going the distance in each of the first two rounds, needing

26 playoff games before finishing off the Lakers in six games. Last

year’s return to the finals took 24 games, and the extended season

has been taking its toll.

Rivers thought that rest was so important this season that he

conceded the No. 2 seed in the East to the Heat to rest his stars

in the final week rather than burn them out in a (likely futile)

attempt to catch Miami.

”I think we do need it, so we’re going to take it,” he said

before sitting his starters for the last two regular season

games.

Boston has one of the oldest starting lineups in the NBA, with

three starters in their 30s – four if O’Neal can make it back from

a right leg injury that has limited him to just 5 minutes, 29

seconds since Feb. 1. Allen is 35, Garnett turns 35 next month and

Pierce is 33; they have played more than 120,000 career minutes

between them.

But Pierce played fewer minutes this year than in any full

season in his career. Garnett was near his career-low in minutes

per game. But no one could use the extra time more than O’Neal.

The former MVP and future Hall of Famer played in a career-low

39 games and 751 minutes this season, but mostly because of injury.

He has not played since making a cameo on April 3 to return from an

Achilles tendon injury. He then injured the same leg after just 5

1/2 minutes.

O’Neal is still listed as day-to-day, the team said Tuesday.

Jermaine O’Neal, 32, whose presence will be key if Shaq can’t

play, also played his fewest minutes since becoming a full-time NBA

starter in 2000.