BOSTON — Celtics coach Doc Rivers got some news when he got to the locker room after Wednesday night’s 98-93 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
His assistant coaches told him his team had clinched a playoff spot.
That really isn’t a big deal, especially when you consider they made the playoffs out of the weaker Eastern Conference, and clinched on a night the woeful Philadelphia 76ers lost in Charlotte. But with what the Celtics have gone through this season (losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger for the year), the Celtics have to take it one step at a time.
“It’s funny, I didn’t know it but my coaches knew,” Rivers said after Jeff Green scored 13 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics hung on despite blowing most of an 18-point third-quarter lead. “[Two assistants] grabbed me and said, ‘hey we made the playoffs,’ so that’s good.”
Now, the goal for Boston is to keep from finishing eighth, thus avoiding a first-round match up with the champion Miami Heat. Eighth-place Milwaukee lost at home to Minnesota Wednesday night, slipping two-and-a-half games behind Boston. That’s the same distance the Celtics have between them and fifth place.
“We knew we were a playoff team before the season started, in spite of the injuries and everything,” Paul Pierce said. “Right now we just want to continue playing well going into the playoffs.”
The Celtics played their seventh straight game without Kevin Garnett, who is resting a sore left ankle, but he should be back soon.
As far as the game itself goes, Rivers entered his media session by saying the game “Will go right to ESPN Classic.” In other words, it was NOT an artistic success, for either team.
The Celtics, ending a four-game series losing streak against Detroit, won despite yielding 25 offensive rebounds (Boston had four) to the bigger Pistons, who took 22 more shots and had a 52-34 overall rebounding advantage. But Detroit was 4-for-24 from 3-point range and missed nine free throws; and the Celtics shot 50.7 percent from the floor.
And Green didn’t allow his team to lose.
“I like the way he’s playing,” Rivers said. At the other end of the hall, Pistons coach and former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank couldn’t help but feel good for Green, who underwent heart surgery a year ago in Cleveland.
“I didn’t like to see him do well tonight, but by and large, every other game you pull for him, especially with what he went through,” Frank said.
Green also had six rebounds and four blocked shots. Brandon Bass posted 17 points and seven rebounds, and Pierce, who missed Monday night’s game due to the birth of his son, added 17 points and five assists for the Celtics (39-36).
Greg Monroe scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds, Rodney Stuckey had 22 points and Jonas Jerebko 19 for the Pistons (25-51).
The Celtics, who also lost guard Leandro Barbosa for the season (before trading his rights to Washington), used a 10-0, second-quarter run to take the lead for good, but the game ultimately got interesting.
The Pistons, who played without late-scratch Jose Calderon (arm) plus the injured Jason Maxiell and Will Bynum, scored the last 11 points of the third quarter to close to within seven.
After the Pistons scored the first three points of the fourth quarter to increase their run to 14-0, Green hit a jumper for Boston’s first points in almost five minutes. It seemed like every time Boston needed a big play, either Green or Pierce would come through.
Big baskets by Pierce and Green (again) and costly turnovers by Detroit kept the Celtics ahead.
Green’s flying slam put-back of a missed 3-pointer by Jason Terry gave Boston an 89-83 lead with 3:36 left, but the Pistons wouldn’t go away.
However, a blown layup by Detroit’s Brandon Knight and continued misses by Charlie Villanueva (2-for-17 from the floor, 0-for-8 from 3-point range) kept the Pistons from ever catching up.
“You think about the (three-game) road trip and we went 1-2, but we had a chance to win all three of them,” Frank said. I know that’s what the losing team says, but we really did.”
NOTES: Rivers on the blown layup by Knight: “I don’t want it for that kid because I’ve known him since (seventh) grade. It was a big play for us.” So was Villanueva blowing a layup. “They missed some layups,” Rivers said. “Red (deceased Celtics patriarch Auerbach) was here. He shows up every once and a while.” … Rivers, asked about the return of Garnett, who was scheduled to miss two-to0four weeks with an ankle injury and already has been out seven games after missing Wednesday night, said, “I haven’t even asked one question about it. I don’t even know when two weeks is. It’s probably coming up and he’ll play.” … Rondo joined his teammates at shootaround Wednesday. “It was great having him around,” Rivers said. “He put on his brace, limped onto the floor and did what he did.” … Before the game, Frank, asked to comment on a Yahoo! report that he could be in line to take the Rutgers job, said, “No. I’m the coach of the Pistons, I haven’t heard from anyone. Next?” … The Celtics opened a four-game homestand that continues with the Cleveland Cavaliers in town Friday night. The Pistons play the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday. … The Celtics observed a moment of silence before the game for former NBA official Greg Willard, who died this week.