With home-court advantage throughout the playoffs already clinched, the Boston Celtics don’t have much to play for in their final four games of the regular season. Neither do the Milwaukee Bucks, who are headed back to the draft lottery.
Though the postseason fates of both teams are sealed, the Celtics continue their tuneup for the playoffs on Friday when they host the Bucks.
Boston (62-16) clinched the best record in the NBA with a win over Charlotte on Saturday. Celtics coach Doc Rivers rested Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in that game, hoping to keep his top three scorers fresh and healthy for the playoffs.
That trio, however, returned to play limited minutes in Boston’s next game against Milwaukee, before seeing significant time in Wednesday’s 109-95 loss at Washington. According to Rivers, his three All-Stars will put in one more full game before easing into the postseason.
“We didn’t play with much intensity, but, honestly, I understand that,” Rivers said Wednesday after his club’s first loss in eight games. “This is the game I wanted to use minutes with the starters, and I probably will do it one more time. After that, we are just getting ready for the playoffs.”
That doesn’t bode well for the Bucks (26-52), who struggled against the Celtics’ “Big Three” before taking advantage of Boston’s reserves in a 107-104 overtime loss in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Garnett, Pierce and Allen helped Boston build a 25-point lead in that game, but Milwaukee rallied against Boston’s bench before falling in overtime.
“I’m proud of the team,” Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “We had an opportunity to fold it up and we put an energy group on the floor and they battled.”
Milwaukee guard Michael Redd had 25 points and six assists Tuesday, and made a game-tying 3-pointer that he called a “great moment for our team.” He said the performance meant the Bucks haven’t given up on their season, despite having been eliminated from playoff contention for the third time in four years.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Redd said. “We’re just going to continue to be professional.”
Redd was held to 6-for-15 shooting from the field Wednesday at Toronto, but Charlie Villanueva had a season-high 38 points - including seven 3-pointers - and added 12 rebounds in the Bucks’ 111-93 loss to Toronto - the team that drafted Villanueva before sending him to Milwaukee after his strong rookie season.
The Bucks need to win at least two of their final four games to match last season’s 28-54 finish, but they’ve lost their first three meetings with the Celtics, and are in danger of getting swept in the season series for the first time since they lost all five meetings in 1985-86. That was also the last season Boston finished with more than 60 wins, and the last time it won an NBA title.