CHARLOTTE, N.C. - With Kevin Garnett watching from the locker room, Ray Allen watching from the bench (while wearing a suit), and proud papa Paul Pierce back in Boston, the Celtics still were able to finalize their postseason plans last night.
Even without the All-Star trio, the Celtics were still able to beat the Charlotte Bobcats in front of a sold-out crowd, 101-78, and clinch home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
The Celtics also secured the honor of largest turnaround in NBA history. With six games to play, the Celtics (61-15) are a plus-37, improving from 24 wins last season.
"Confidence coming from here tonight has got to be great," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "To come out here and play a team that is very difficult to beat at home and win this game . . . For our guys, if you could write a script on how to clinch home court, this would probably be it."
In winning their sixth straight game, the Celtics received a season-high 19 points from forward James Posey, and Leon Powe added 22 points (making 12 of 13 free throws) and nine rebounds.
"It's an opportunity to play," Posey said. "We're still working on things with guys on the bench. We're trying to finish out the season and get ready for the playoffs."
Said Powe: "We moved the ball, got some open looks, got some loose balls, and we came out there ready to fight to get a win. That's all."
Although Rivers said recently that he didn't plan on sitting his key guys during the final stretch of the regular season, he switched gears last Wednesday. Last night, Rivers did as Detroit did recently with its three stars (Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace), sidelining the trio together for the first time this season.
Rivers added that although Garnett, Pierce, and Allen could get more time off in the final regular-season games, it won't be as a trio again, and it could take the form of lessened minutes.
Pierce, who was still in Boston after the birth of his daughter Friday, is slated to join the team in Milwaukee tomorrow. Garnett and Allen both made the trip.
"Right now at this stage of the game it's not a 'me' situation. It's an 'us' situation," Allen said. "We earned the position that we are in. In the sake of allowing this team to get better, Doc feels we need some rest."
Garnett, who stayed in the locker room as he usually does when he misses a game, said, "Whatever Doc wants, man. I'm not going to go back and forth. I don't like to miss games, but Doc is doing what he thinks is best for this team and that's what I'm going to support."
Rivers said the strategy would get his bench more playing time, although no Celtic player clocked more than 30 minutes in the Bobcats blowout. It's possible that point guard Rajon Rondo could also miss a game or get fewer minutes, too. Center Kendrick Perkins, however, is expected to play similar minutes.
"This is a great opportunity for them, overall, just the whole bench," Rivers said.
The reason Rivers felt comfortable making the move was because his team entered last night needing just one win (or one Detroit loss) to earn home-court advantage.
But on the flip side, Rivers also wants his key players to be in rhythm when the postseason begins, too.
"You got to keep your rhythm," said Rivers, whose team doesn't play again until Tuesday at Milwaukee. "I'd usually keep on playing them. But because of this long extended break, this quirky schedule, we could take advantage of it."
Posey made his first start of the season in place of Pierce, Powe made his fourth in place of Garnett, and Tony Allen made his 10th in place of Ray Allen. Yet, the Celtics didn't seem to miss a beat as they finished the first quarter with a 37-25 lead.
Boston was just 1 point shy of tying a season high for points in the first quarter, a mark set against Denver Nov. 7.
Posey scored 13 points in the first quarter while Allen added 11. The team shot 59.1 percent from the field and nailed four 3-pointers.
Rivers called the first quarter "the whole key" to the win.
"We sprinted the ball up the floor," Rivers said. "We got into our [offense] early.
"We did [three] things that I liked the first quarter: We established the break, we established the low-post game with Leon, and we established the pick-and-roll game . . .
"No matter if the 'Big Three' are playing or not, that's how you start the game."
Boston took a 64-50 halftime lead. Powe had 16 points and six rebounds at halftime while Posey added 15 points.
Said Bobcats coach Sam Vincent: "To find out [Garnett, Allen, and Pierce] were not playing could have been a little bit of a letdown."