WASHINGTON – There was a collective exhale Tuesday night, with an underwhelming 49-win regular season out of the way and a chance at something better in the playoffs finally at hand.
The Celtics polished off their season using reserves to beat the Wizards, 116-110. Terry Rozier led the way with 21 points, RJ Hunter exploded down the stretch with 17 points and four 3-pointers. Now it’s time to break out the Indiana scouting report.
But Rozier spoke for a lot of people when he took a final, painful look back at a disappointing season that has left the Celtics with the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“The season hasn’t been fun, personally,” said Rozier, who admittedly had trouble settling into a reserve role behind Kyrie Irving. “I know there are better things to come. I know we’re going to have a great playoff push, and I’m ready.
“It’s nothing crazy. I just haven’t had that much fun. Last year I feel like was more fun to me. But it’s not all about me, and I feel as a team, as a whole, we’re going to have a great playoff push. I feel like we’re more connected, more together than we were at the beginning of the season. There’s a lot of things that we corrected. So I feel like it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
In that respect the Wizards game was important, just for lightening the mood. With Irving, Al Horford, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, Aron Baynes and Gordon Hayward all missing this trip to nurse various aches, the bench crew pulled out one last regular-season win.
It didn’t hurt that the game’s nature had more in common with the Las Vegas Summer League than the NBA regular season.
“That was my funnest game this year. Just go out there and have fun and treat it like the YMCA,” Rozier said. “That’s what we all said today. We were going to get them up and have fun, and you’ve seen the outcome.”
But if this 82nd game send-off was a good opportunity for the players to let off a little steam, their coach remained the same.
“I kind of stay day to day. I’m not really into wishing today away and rushing to get somewhere,” Brad Stevens said of playoff anticipation. “It takes time to come together as a team and seeing how good you can be. We’ve had our moments. I’m not sure we’ve peaked, which I guess is a good thing. But we’re going to have to play awfully well and awfully hard, awfully smart, and awfully together if we’re going to have a chance to win any game, let alone any series. And so now that it’s here, we’ll prepare appropriately. Our guys will be ready to go.”
ON THE MEND
Smart (bruised oblique) and Tatum (bruised shin) returned to the Auerbach Center floor to test out their respective injuries.
Both injuries were suffered during Sunday’s loss to Orlando. Smart’s injury, in particular, was alarming because of sight of the Celtics guard being helped to the locker room in obvious pain.
“Jayson went through, felt better as it was going,” Stevens said. “Still a little sore, but clearly trending upward. Marcus did less, still sore. Trending upward as well, but probably not as far along as Jayson. What that means, I have no idea.”
It’s beneficial to both players that the playoffs won’t start until Saturday or Sunday. Smart’s recovery history considered, his returns tend to be on the short side of tome frames.
“It really depends on how he feels. I’ve heard anything from it could be good to go by practice later in the week to, if he’s got pain there or whatever the case may be, that it could be a little bit longer,” Stevens said. “They haven’t given me an exact timeline, and I don’t think we’ll know that until he really gets on the court and moves around. But it doesn’t sound like it’s a long-term issue.”
Stevens said Smart reported an improvement. Tatum had an MRI that came back clean.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of guys at home,” Stevens said. “As far as long-term injuries, the two that people have asked about the most are Tatum and Smart, obviously, both are going to get on the court today. … I’ll know more tomorrow when we practice and after they go through everything that they’re doing today.”
GIBSON IN MIX
The Celtics signed Jonathan Gibson for the rest of the playoffs. The young shooter is eligible should Stevens choose to look his way.
Gibson, who averaged 33.1 points for Qingdao of the Chinese Basketball Association this winter, played in four games for the Celtics last season, including 18 points in the season finale against Brooklyn last year. He did not get in the game against the Wizards.
“He gets buckets, that’s the bottom line,” Stevens said. “That’s why we wanted to bring him back. Last year he got off a red-eye and hit four straight 3s – that’s pretty impressive. He’s a good guy to have around. He’s been through everything. He understands what his role will be.”
Tony Bennett’s incredible run this season, taking Virginia to the national title Monday night after being eliminated in the first round by 16th-seeded University of Maryland-Baltimore County in 2018, truly resonated with Stevens.
“One of the coolest things I’ve seen in sports (was) Tony Bennett’s reaction when they got beat last year, and the way he handled it and the class with which he handled it, which everyone who knows him knows he would,” Stevens said. “And then to back that up with the year they had, to be down in the first round like they were, for all those kids and for him and everybody associated with that program to win all those games in the fashion they did is just remarkable. And it was a tremendous championship game and a lot of fun to watch but Tony is a good friend and I’m thrilled for him and thrilled for college basketball. He’s about all the good stuff.”