BOSTON (AP)—Paul Pierce is planning a birthday party for his 1-year-old daughter. Kevin Garnett gets another four days to recover from a strained right knee. Rajon Rondo is just going to “chill at home.”
Let the other Eastern Conference playoff contenders tear each other apart fighting for playoff seeding. The Boston Celtics are getting what they need most: rest.
“We’re playing really well right now, but we need a break,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Friday night after giving his team a rare, in-season weekend off following a 104-92 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. “This is absolutely needed.”
Pierce scored 21 points and Rondo had 20 for Boston, which has four days off before its next game and has just one, two-game road trip before the end of the season. The Celtics also have just one set of back-to-back games, on the last two days of the regular season.
Kendrick Perkins had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Glen “Big Baby” Davis had 19 points in place of Garnett, who missed his fourth straight game and his 17th of 21. Tony Allen played his first game since Feb. 8, but Brian Scalabrine and Leon Powe also remained on the bench with injuries.
“Now we have a few days, next week we have a few days,” Perkins said. “But me, Rondo and Baby, we’re in our early 20s—we don’t need that much rest.”
Flip Murray scored 21 points, Mike Bibby had 20 and Josh Smith had 13 points and 10 rebounds for Atlanta, which has lost seven straight regular-season games to the Celtics and nine in a row overall in Boston, including last year’s seven-game, first-round playoff series.
Atlanta dropped to three games ahead of fifth-place Philadelphia in the conference standings, and the Hawks need home-court more than most: They’ve lost five straight away games to fall to 14-24 on the road and 29-9 at home.
“We don’t play the same way we do at home,” Smith said. “We get away from the things we do at home and don’t do it on the road.”
Boston hopes the Hawks can snap out of it when they return to Philips Arena to play Orlando on Saturday. The Celtics are just a game ahead of the Magic, who beat Cleveland 116-87 on Friday night, for the No. 2 spot in the East.
Fans cheered when the score of Cleveland’s game against Orlando was put on the board and the Magic were winning by 28 points. But the Celtics have already conceded the No. 1 seed to the Cavaliers.
Home court was valuable for Boston last year, when it needed seven games to beat the Hawks and seven more to eliminate Cleveland—both times, the home team won every game in the series. But this year it might be more important to get Garnett and the other injured players healthy than to push for the top seed.
“I’ll just take two days off; I think my body needs it,” Pierce said. “That’s just growing as a player, getting older, getting smarter. We still feel like it’s a long season, potentially two more months to play. So it’s important to get our rest right now.”
Boston’s first three victories over Atlanta this season were by a total of 10 points. This one wasn’t that close.
Atlanta erased a 52-48 halftime lead with the first two baskets of the third quarter, but Boston scored the next 10 points and never trailed. The Hawks cut it to two points with 3:52 left in the third before the Celtics called a timeout. Pierce drove to the basket for a layup, Rondo did the same, and after a pair of free throws by Zaza Pachulia, Mikki Moore made a three-point play.
Bibby hit a 20-footer to make it 74-69, but Rondo made a 3-pointer and the Hawks never got closer than six points after that.
Hawks F Marvin Williams missed his 13th straight game with back pain. … Powe missed his ninth straight game. … Pierce picked up a technical foul late in the second quarter for complaining to the officials. Moore got one in the third, and double technicals were given to Smith and Perkins. … Allen scored two points in eight minutes.