NEW YORK — The Celtics showed no interest in playing spoiler or getting involved in other team’s quest for a better playoff seed, resting several players for their regular-season finale against the New York Knicks.
Jayson Tatum, Evan Fournier, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams were ruled out, along with Jaylen Brown, who has been out for the past week, recovering from wrist surgery.
The patchwork Celtics lineup rallied in the fourth quarter and pushed the Knicks to the final minute before losing, 96-92.
Sunday’s game was meaningful for the Knicks, who needed to win to clinch the fourth seed and home-court advantage in a first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks. The Celtics are locked into the seventh seed and will host the Washington Wizards in a play-in tournament game Tuesday at TD Garden.
And their focus may not have been entirely on Madison Square Garden as the Wizards and Charlotte Hornets faced off in Washington at the same time to determine who would face the Celtics. Washington won, 115-110.
If the Celtics win the play-in game they advance to the first round of the playoffs against the second seed, which still hadn’t been determined. And coach Brad Stevens said Monday’s practice will determine the playing condition of players such as Walker and Williams.
Walker has been out since the Tuesday loss to Miami with left cervical nerve irritation while Williams has been out a week with turf toe. It’s uncertain if either could have played Sunday had it been a must-win game. Smart has also been out since Tuesday with a right calf contusion while Thompson has missed the past two games with a pectoral strain.
So there appears to be some vagueness about who will be available for Tuesday but the Celtics will be more like themselves.
“We’ll find out more when we hit the practice court (Monday) on those guys,” Stevens said. “I think we’ve got some potential availability amongst that group but also some potential misses amongst that group.”
Making most of their minutes
With so many frontline players out, Stevens reached deep into his bench for minutes and received some encouraging performances. Jabari Parker, perhaps making a bid for playoff minutes, scored a team-high 18 points in 26 minutes on 6-for-10 shooting.
Tremont Waters, the team’s fourth point guard, led the Celtics fourth-quarter rally that included a 15-0 run and finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a plus-20.
“We just wanted to go out there and fight,” Waters said. “I thought we did a pretty good job, just too late. Whenever my name is called, I want to be able to make the right decision and run the team. It’s a totally different feel now being able to play with the Celtics and be able to show what I can do but know I still have a lot more learning to go.”
Waters is in the second year of a two-way contract and his status as a Celtic for next season, like many of his teammates, is uncertain.
Tuesday’s play-in game will have an unusual 9 p.m. start because TNT is also carrying the Hornets-Pacers game at 6:30 p.m. Squeezing two Eastern Conference games into one night was going to mean a late start for the second game. If the Celtics win, they will clinch the seventh seed. If they lose, they will host the Hornets-Pacers winner on Thursday for a win-or-go-home game … Sunday’s game would have been even more interesting if Luke Kornet had been able to knock down a couple of open 3-pointers late in the game. Kornet began his Celtics career 4 for his first 7 from the 3-point line but finished 5 for 29 on threes, including 0 for 5 on Sunday … The Celtics had their chances but missed 30 of 41 3-point attempts total with the trio of Kornet, Carsen Edwards and Payton Pritchard going a combined 5 for 26 … Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau may have a decision to make at point guard, with the struggling Elfrid Payton going scoreless in nearly 14 minutes and Knicks fans yelling for Thibodeau to insert Derrick Rose after a couple of early Payton turnovers.