With much more to lose in potential injuries than gain with another victory, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat let their reserves decide the second-to-last game of the regular season.
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Rest and recovery were of much greater importance as both teams looked ahead to the postseason and patched together lineups that hardly resembled last year’s second-round playoff series.
The result was sloppy at times, but turned into a relatively even matchup before the seldom-used Celtics rallied for a 78-66 win over the starless Heat on Tuesday night.
Sasha Pavlovic led Boston with a season-high 16 points, scoring 12 in the fourth quarter as the Celtics pulled away by shooting 50 percent (11 for 22) in the period and forcing Miami into eight of its season-high 25 turnovers.
”Well, someone had to win the game and we did, which was really nice,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. ”You know, these games are still important, probably for both teams.”
But not important enough to risk anybody’s playoff status.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were out for the Heat. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo didn’t play for the Celtics.
Rivers said Rondo and Garnett should be back in the lineup on Thursday when Boston hosts Milwaukee in the final game of the regular season.
By rallying for a win Tuesday, the Celtics — locked into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference as a division winner — still can get home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs against Atlanta with another victory on Thursday and a loss by Hawks.
Atlanta heads into the season finale with a one-game lead, but Boston won the season series.
The Celtics would prefer to open the playoffs on the road with a healthy lineup than be back at home with Rondo (back), Garnett (hip flexor) or Allen (bone spurs) still hobbled by injuries.
”We’ll see,” Rivers said. ”It would be nice to put some more pressure and force Atlanta to have to win.”
Anyone who bought a ticket to this game months ago, anticipating an Eastern Conference showdown was disappointed. Instead, it was the Heat JV taking on the Celtics Lite.
Bosh didn’t dress again because of a left hamstring strain. James and Wade were still in warmups and didn’t come to the bench until after the starting lineups were announced, and although they were listed as active, they never entered the game.
Instead of trying to catch Chicago for the top seed in the East, the Heat now are locked in at No. 2.
”We wanted to make sure going into the last week with a quick turnaround that we were ready for this weekend,” Miami coach Eric Spoelstra said. ”We had legitimate injuries. We weren’t just sitting guys.”
Dexter Pittman had 12 points, James Jones scored 11 and Udonis Haslem grabbed 13 rebounds for the Heat, whose 25 turnovers were a season high. Miami failed to score 20 in any quarter, and had just 16 in each of the final two periods.
”We made too many turnovers and they capitalized on them,” Jones said. ”We did some good things, but just not enough, so we are locked into the second seed and we are focused on trying to correct some of our mistakes as we move into the playoffs.”
Marquis Daniels finished with 13 points, Brandon Bass had eight points and eight rebounds for the Celtics. Paul Pierce finished with eight points. He started the game, but sat out the fourth quarter while Pavlovic thrilled the remaining fans as the Celtics improved to 3-1 against the Heat this season.
”I started kind of slow in the first half — Doc was on me about that,” said Pavlovic, who 0 for 2 while going scoreless in the first half. ”I just came out in the second half and played as hard as I could defensively. Whenever I had an open shot, I just took it.”
Pavlovic was 5 for 6 in the fourth quarter, hitting two 3s while scoring 12.
The Celtics had almost as many turnovers (seven) as points (10) in the first quarter, and failed to score until a little past the midpoint of the opening period. But after the sloppy start, Boston’s patchwork lineup came together in the third quarter, tying it with a 10-0 run late and then outscoring the Heat 10-4 to start the fourth.
”It wasn’t a pretty game — obviously, with 25 turnovers,” Spoelstra said. ”However, we got to that point, we were still tied halfway through the fourth quarter. It just went from there.”
Sean Williams hit two free throws to put Boston up 58-54, then Pavlovic pulled up with a baseline jumper for a 60-54 lead with 6:35 remaining and Miami called a time out.
Pavlovic continued to pick apart the Heat, driving for a dunk that put the Celtics up 62-56, then hitting a 3-pointer to stretch the lead to nine with 4:45 left.
Pavlovic’s previous high for the season was 10, two fewer than he scored in the final quarter.
Pierce hit a jumper, fed Bass with a pass under the basket for a dunk and then Pavlovic hit a jumper to get the Celtics started on a 10-0 run that tied it at 46-all late in the third quarter. It was tied at 50 entering the fourth. Daniels stole the ball from Juwan Howard and took it uncontested for a dunk that put the Celtics up 54-52, Boston’s first lead since 18-17 in the second quarter.
The Celtics are at home Thursday against Milwaukee while the Heat close out the regular season at Washington
Haslem and Mario Chalmers were the only regular Miami starters while Pierce and Bass were Boston normal starters in the opening lineup.
NOTES: The Celtics didn’t score until Pierce’s turnaround jumper with 5:45 left in the first quarter, cutting Miami’s lead to 11-2. … The Celtics matched their season-low for a quarter with just 10 points in the first period. … The Heat knocked the Celtics out in the second round of the playoffs last year, winning the series 4-1. … One of the loudest cheers of the night was when the big-screen monitor showed highlights of the Boston Bruins’ win over Washington in Game 6 on Sunday. The Bruins host the Capitals on Wednesday night in Game 7.