The Boston Celtics didn't play four of their usual starters, essentially setting aside their bid for a better playoff seed for the chance to give their top players some rest, and the result was a 95-94 overtime loss to the Washington Wizards on Monday night that handed the Miami Heat the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.
With Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo watching from the bench, Celtics coach Doc Rivers made it clear that a fresh crew ready for the postseason was more important that using up energy to try to climb one rung in the standings in the season's final days.
Boston's loss, combined with Miami's 98-90 win over Atlanta, guaranteed the Heat will finish second and the Celtics will place third.
John Wall had 24 points, nine rebounds and three assists to lead the lottery-bound Wizards in their home finale. Jordan Crawford scored 17 points, including the jumper that sent the game to overtime and the 3-pointer that gave Washington the lead for good in the extra period. Andray Blatche added 16 points before fouling out in overtime.
Jeff Green scored 20 points and tied his career high with 15 rebounds in his first Celtics start. Glen Davis also had 20 points. Jermaine O'Neal, who needed the playing time after missing much of the season with a sore knee, had seasons highs in both points (15) and rebounds (13). Delonte West had 11 points, five assists and five rebounds before leaving with a sprained right ankle in the third quarter — the same injury that cost him eight games earlier in the season.
The game featured wild swings and had the feel of an exhibition played at the end of training camp. The Celtics had runs of 10-2 and 15-0; the Wizards pulled off spurts of 16-0 and 11-0. Boston led by six inside the final minute, but Crawford's 16-foot baseline jumper with 5.4 seconds to go in regulation sent the game to overtime.
The extra period had some laughable sequences, the most absurd coming when Boston's Von Wafer missed a wide-open driving dunk and O'Neal committed a blatant double-dribble after getting the rebound. Crawford's 3-pointer broke a tie with 39 seconds to play. O'Neal made a basket to cut the deficit to one, but Carlos Arroyo missed a potential game-winning 18-foot jump shot at the final buzzer.
Rivers called it a difficult decision to give his top players some rest, but he said his mind was made up after the Celtics' 100-77 loss to the Heat on Sunday. He said Shaquille O'Neal, who hasn't played since April 3 because of a strained right calf, wouldn't have played Monday or Wednesday regardless of the standings.
"The way we're playing right now, I think we do need it, so we're going to take it," the coach said before the game.
Rivers figured by giving his veterans a three-day mental break — Monday through Wednesday — they'll be ready for three good days of practices Thursday through Saturday before the playoffs start. He said his message will be: "Just reset yourself. Reset the team."
"Mostly it's mental, all the time, with anybody on any team," Rivers said. "They're the best conditioned athletes in the world, so I don't believe in the whole getting-tired theory unless you're allowing yourself to get tired. They just need the rest. And the break. The whole reason is it allows us to have practice with energy, and we need that more than anything."
The Celtics' lineup included Wafer, making his first start of the season. West made his second start. Green got the starting nod for the first time since arriving from Oklahoma City via trade in February.
Notes: Pierce and Allen had been the only two Celtics to play in every game this season. ... The Wizards finished 20-21 at home. ... Wall and Blatche scored all 19 of Washington's points in the first quarter. ... Rivers had a good laugh over the criticism the Celtics have received for trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. "Like I jokingly told Perk, he should renegotiate again," Rivers said. "His value keeps increasing by each loss. It's amazing." Seriously, Rivers cited Boston's record without Perkins and said the criticism over the trade is "silly." ... It was bound to happen: The Wizards played the trumpet sound that urges the fans to yell "Charge!" — and, right on cue, Blatche plowed into a Celtics player and was called for a charge.