Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers wasn't about to overanalyze something he feels he's known for some time.
For weeks his club had been clinging to the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, and a 120-88 thrashing of the Orlando Magic on Saturday made it official. The Celtics will enter the playoffs next weekend as the seventh seed, primed for a matchup with either the current two-seed, the New York Knicks, or the third-seeded Indiana Pacers, who can still vault past New York into the second spot.
"Yeah, now we know, so that's about it," Rivers told reporters after Saturday's win. "We just know and we were preparing anyway, so we're just going to continue to prepare for the playoffs."
While Boston probably hasn't completely closed its scouting report on the Pacers, it's most likely gearing up for a matchup with the Knicks, as New York boasts a three-game lead over the Pacers in the standings. With three games remaining for each team, the Knicks would have to lose out and Indiana would have to win out for their spots to flip. The Knicks can end that conversation for good on Sunday, when they'll square off with the Pacers at Madison Square Garden.
But Saturday wasn't about potential playoff opponents. Saturday was about the Celtics, and the steps they took to continue making themselves as playoff-ready as possible. Perhaps a matchup with the second-worst team in the Eastern Conference was just what Boston needed to flush out some of the remaining kinks in its system.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce returned to the lineup after resting through Friday's loss to the Heat and helped pace an offensive assault that saw the C's register seven players in double figures. Garnett chipped in his best outing in recent memory, connecting on 7-of-8 shots for 14 points and nine rebounds in just over 18 minutes of play.
"We really wanted to establish Kevin, just get him some post rhythm," Rivers said. "I thought over the last week or two weeks he really got out of that and to get him back into that was nice."
Brandon Bass (14 points, five rebounds) continued his strong play of late, while Jeff Green fought through a wicked third-quarter hip check, courtesy of Orlando guard Doron Lamb, and finished with 17 points, six rebounds and three assists, even maintaining his aggressiveness on the offensive end with Garnett on the floor (something that's come into question over the last few games). Courtney Lee broke out of a recent offensive funk with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and Jordan Crawford matched Lee's shooting percentage and added 16 points of his own.
"It was good, especially guys like Jordan, Courtney -- they'd been struggling," Rivers said. "Jordan hasn't, but Courtney has, so I just thought it was important for him to get in a good rhythm offensively, so that was nice."
It all adds up to the Celtics being a confident bunch, despite being losers of 10 of their last 15 games. While they won't see a team as deflated as the Magic in the postseason, Saturday served as a needed confidence booster, as Boston reminded itself that when it's clicking on all cylinders, it's still a force to be reckoned with. And that has the C's feeling good with the playoffs right around the corner.
"I like our team. I like our team a lot," Rivers said. "And the key for us is get through these two games, have some great practices, and get ready for the playoffs. That's what you play the whole season for."
Winning on Saturday and locking up the seventh seed gave Boston needed control over its immediate future. While prepping for the playoffs means polishing offensive sets and defensive rotations, the Celtics also need their key guys in as close to peak condition as possible. Knowing his team can't slide one way or the other now gives Rivers the freedom to give the likes of Garnett and Pierce another game off, which he said he most likely will do.
"Well, we'll play them a little bit. I don't think they'll play both games," Rivers said. "But more our focus will be on what we need to run and what we need to do in the playoffs."
Rivers also said he'll most likely sit Jason Terry -- who missed Saturday's game in favor of rest -- for another game, and giving Green an extra day or two to relax his hip and the bruised left elbow he suffered in Friday's loss wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
The final two games of the regular season -- a home-and-away back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday against Indiana and Toronto -- likely feel more like unnecessary detours for a Boston team so focused on the postseason. With not much riding on either outcome (unless Indiana keeps winning and makes the race for the second seed a bit more interesting), Rivers can focus on keeping his players in rhythm and, more importantly, keeping them healthy -- two key factors in the playoff success Boston believes it is primed for.
"Health is good, health is good. Kevin feels great," Rivers said. "We've given him a ton of rest over the last three, four weeks. We've given Paul rest, (Jason Terry) -- who didn't play (Saturday) -- will not play the next game, most likely. He may play in Toronto. So, our veteran guys have gotten a ton of rest, our young guys are getting a lot of playing time, which will get them going for the playoffs, so I think we're setting ourselves up for a pretty good run."