BOSTON (AP)—The final buzzer sounded on the NBA regular season Wednesday night, and Celtics forward Paul Pierce found himself thinking back to what he was doing a year ago.
“I was on my way to the airport last year at this time,” Pierce said just 20 minutes after Boston closed out the New Jersey Nets, 105-94. “Seriously. True story.”
This year, the Celtics have something to stick around for.
Second-stringer Leon Powe scored a career-high 27 points, adding 11 rebounds for his sixth career double-double, while Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and the rest of the Boston starters rested up for the playoffs. With their NBA-best 66 wins, the Celtics had already clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a matchup against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.
“I’m glad we finished off the season on a winning note despite me, Kevin and Ray not playing our normal minutes,” Pierce said. “We’ll enjoy it tonight. But we’re a team on a mission starting tomorrow.”
Tony Allen scored 18 for Boston, which won its fourth straight game and the 11th of its last 12.
“We’re not going to play in the postseason. That’s what you play for,” guard Vince Carter said. “Obviously, it’s disappointing.”
The game had the feel of a typical late-season Celtics game: nothing on the line, and not much star power on the floor. But this time the Celtics had talent — they just chose not to use it.
Garnett scored eight points in 14 minutes, Pierce scored seven in 17 and Allen had three in 18. The starters played most of the first and third quarters and sat out all the second and fourth quarters.
Starting point guard Rajon Rondo got the night off.
“I’ve never been in this situation, because every time I’ve coached it’s been down to the last game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “We’re through it, and now it’s time to play. … It’s time to go to work. We’re ready.”
The Celtics pulled out to their typical early lead, scoring 17 of the first 21 points, and they led by 10 when the substitutes began entering the game. Rivers went with his bench for the end of the first and the whole second quarter, which ended with Boston leading 53-47.
Garnett & Co. came back out for a cameo in the third quarter, and they were out there for most of the 17-4 run that allowed New Jersey to turn a six-point deficit into a 71-64 lead. Boston’s bench scored the last 11 points of the third, getting a jumper from Glen Davis and a 3-pointer from Eddie House in the final seconds to regain the lead.
James Posey also got the night off. … Rondo was honored at halftime with the Sixth Star award, for exceeding expectations. … Tony Allen blocked Maurice Ager in the second quarter, ripping the ball out of his hands one-handed and coming down with it. … Pierce addressed the crowd before the game, which was fan appreciation night.