BOSTONRyan Hollins for a number of stretches on Thursday, was the best player on the floor.
That tells you all you need to know about the Boston Celtics' 87-74 win over Milwaukee, a game in which the Bucks had nothing to gain or lose -- and for the most part, played that way.
Meanwhile, the Celtics had a slim chance of gaining home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win and a loss by Atlanta, but the Hawks were able to beat defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and will host Games 1 and 2 of their first round playoff series with the Celtics which begins in Atlanta on Sunday.
In addition to the win, the Celtics showed tangible signs of getting most of the gang back healthy for what they anticipate will be a long playoff run.
Mickael Pietrus and Rajon Rondo each returned to the lineup, and showed no signs of rust despite the lengthy lay-off.
Pietrus made his first three shots, and finished with nine points. And Rondo delivered yet another double-digit assist game with 15. Rondo, the NBA's leader in assists this season, has now had 10 or more assists in 24 straight games -- five short of tying the record set by Utah's John Stockton in 1992.
Boston's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did start the game, but both spent the entire second half on the bench. The C's got a bit of a scare in the first half when Pierce had to leave the game with a left big toe injury that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the game.
Instead, Pierce returned and ultimately wound up playing about six minutes, tallying 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Garnett was on the floor for 11 minutes, missing five of his six shot attempts.
While the Celtics are closer to being whole heading into the playoffs, there's still a big piece of their roster -- Ray Allen -- still missing.
He has now missed nine straight with a right ankle injury, which has put his availability for the playoffs very much in doubt.
But that's what made these games near the end of the season so valuable for Boston.
While most of the games that played extended minutes in the last week or so probably won't see nearly as much time in the playoffs, it's a good sign that they were ready to play when given an opportunity.
"We don't know who will be in the rotation for the playoffs," said Celtics guard Keyon Dooling. "At the end of the day, they may need us for three minutes, four minutes here or there. We want to be able to contribute, whether it's on the defensive end, in the hustle category, whether we have to make a shot, whatever it is you have to be mentally tuned in and focused and you can't think about your own personal situation. You have to be bigger than that. That's what's different about this team. That's what's so awesome about this team. It's all about progressing."
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