TORONTO — When the options are playoff health or squeezing out a couple of final regular-season wins, the Boston Celtics have an easy choice.

Especially with Thursday’s announcement that Kyrie Irving is done for the season with a knee injury.

“I’ve said it before, we’ve been talking about this for a couple weeks, there’s two things: There’s health, and us playing well,” said center Al Horford. “Right now we’re shaky on the health part but we’re playing good basketball. Even though we lost (Tuesday night in Milwaukee), we had some miscues, we’re playing good basketball.

“That’s what I’m concerned about. I want our guys to feel good going into the playoffs. We can’t control that. We just have to keep making sure we’re playing well and if we’re able to win, if things are going our way, maybe we will get that. But that’s not important to me.”

In another four games, when the playoffs begin and Coach Brad Stevens no longer has to worry about the impact of back-to-back games on his ailing lineup, maybe the Celtics’ rotation will begin snapping back into place.

Stevens has had to train his focus on getting healthy, as opposed to any fleeting chance of competing for the top playoff seed.


That mindset was evident during Tuesday night’s loss in Milwaukee, when Stevens sat Terry Rozier because of nagging ankle pain, left a sick Shane Larkin at home to recover, and instead gave rookie Kadeem Allen his first NBA start.

If Stevens has to continue this balancing act right through next Wednesday’s regular-season finale, so be it.

“That’s why we sat (Rozier). If he’s 80 to 85 (percent), you just don’t want that to happen,” said Stevens. “You can’t go out there and play timid, you can’t go out there and play unaggressive, unassertive. That’s just part of the game. Now if someone has nicks or bruises and doesn’t feel 100 percent, we’ll probably hold them out.”

Though Larkin and the ever-game Rozier are back, Stevens is wholly prepared to put more exotic lineups on the floor as a short-term solution.

“Terry and Shane will be on our team and be ready for the playoffs, knock on wood,” said Stevens. “That will be our team as we open the playoffs, so we have to do everything we can, all be prepared to play a little bit better, and we’ve all played well (during the just-ended six-game winning streak).”

Albeit with everyone from Horford and Greg Monroe to Jaylen Brown sharing in the playmaking duties.


“It stinks that you have to limit your menu when you’re playing with no one but Kadeem at (point guard), but that’s part of it,” said Stevens. “It’s certainly helpful to have those other guys playing, but at the end of the day they weren’t (in Milwaukee). We have to play better.”

MAVERICKS: Dirk Nowitzki’s 20th season is over a few games early after surgery on his left ankle.

The team said Nowitzki underwent a procedure to clear out unhealthy tissue, called surgical debridement.

CAVALIERS: Coach Tyronn Lue said “piercing” chest pains persuaded him to take a medical leave.

Lue, 40, returned to the sideline after missing nine games. He said he’s feeling much better. He changed his diet and said the time off gave him new perspective.



PACERS 126, WARRIORS 106: Bojan Bogdanovic had 28 points, Victor Oladipo scored 14 of his 21 points in the second half and Indiana won at Indianapolis.

The Pacers have won 6 of 7, including twice against Golden State. It’s their first season sweep over the Warriors since 2011-12.

Kevin Durant had 27 points, five rebounds and seven assists, but Golden State’s three-game winning streak ended. Klay Thompson had 16 points before being shut out in the second half.

The Warriors were swept by an Eastern Conference team for the first time since Charlotte did it in the 2013-14 season.

NETS 119, BUCKS 111: Allen Crabbe scored 25 points and hit two 3-pointers in the closing minutes of a tight game, and Brooklyn shot 48 percent from behind the arc at Milwaukee.

The sharpshooting Nets were 19 of 39 from 3-point range, dealing a blow to the Bucks’ hopes of moving up from the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.


Crabbe was clutch by hitting two of his five 3s over the final three minutes, the second coming with 1:18 left to give the Nets a six-point lead.

ROCKETS 96, TRAIL BLAZERS 94: Chris Paul hit an off-balance layup with 0.8 seconds left to lift Houston at home.

Paul scored 27 points to help Houston get its second straight victory since a loss to San Antonio. The Rockets swept their four-game season series with Portland.

The Rockets led by 24 in the second quarter and still had a big lead with about five minutes left before the Trail Blazers went on a 19-2 run to tie it at 94-all with 6.1 seconds left. James Harden, who finished with 24 points, missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds left before Pat Connaughton tied it with a short basket.

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