Celtics could still be short-handed when they enter play-in tournament

Brad Stevens said the Celtics still might not be at full strength when the play-in tournament begins.

The Celtics might not be at full-strength in the play-in game. AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King

With the No. 7 seed locked up and no reason to play their best players, the Boston Celtics were short-handed against the New York Knicks in their final game of the season on Sunday.

Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, Tristan Thompson, and Rob Williams all sat out as the Celtics played a lineup full of young players.

“Jayson and Evan are out. Always take a lay up if you can get a lay up,” Brad Stevens said before the game, referencing a rare opportunity to rest players with zero consequences.

The Celtics’ top players needed the rest. After Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale in New York, the team will travel back to Boston and prepare for the first play-in game, which will take place on Tuesday.

Presumably, several of the healthy scratches from Sunday’s game — such as Tatum and Fournier — will be available. But Stevens suggested that some of the players who are out might remain out going forward.

“We’ll find out more when we hit the practice court tomorrow on those guys and go from there,” Stevens said. “I think we’ve got some potential availability amongst that group, but also some potential misses amongst that group.”

The best bet among the potential “misses” is Robert Williams, whose turf toe issues have held him out for several games.

Stevens said he anticipates an entertaining postseason, whatever the result.

“The play-in games are going to be exciting for fans, and it puts an added weight and added importance on that week,” he said. “And then once you get into the playoffs and teams dial into each other and prepare for each other, you see everybody’s level rise. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing as some of these offensive outbursts have been all year, because I think people will dial it in defensively, and we’ll have more time in between games and more chances to really dive into the opponent. So I think that that’s probably what you’ll see,


“But we’re coming off of a playoffs that, when we were in the bubble, I thought it was the highest level I’d ever seen this as far as intensity, effort, teams, again, playing at just a ridiculous level, and I just think the playoffs brings that out of people every year. So I anticipate the playoffs will be great.”

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