for this game

Celtics rest 'Big Three,' top Knicks

Apr 15, 2008 - 3:29 AM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Doc Rivers admitted he was a little concerned about having Rajon Rondo and Sam Cassell on the court together in the fourth quarter. After Monday's performance, he might consider doing it again.

Rondo scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half while Cassell added 12 of his 22 in the fourth as the Boston Celtics continued tuning up for the postseason with a 99-93 victory over the New York Knicks on Monday.

Despite being days away from completing one of the worst seasons in franchise history, the Knicks drew their 21st sellout to Madison Square Garden, where food and non-alcoholic beverages were free.

The crowd also may have seen Isiah Thomas' final appearance on the sidelines at MSG as the Knicks finished 15-26 at home. By the time the game reached the final seconds, the fans began chanting "Fire Isiah" and booing Thomas, who continued to express his appreciation for the crowd after also doing so before the game.

"Even though they have been hard on us at times, they have showed up every single night," Thomas said. "I have seen in a lot of arenas where they don't come and they don't care."

Before that, Rivers enjoyed a solid performance from the 22-year-old Rondo and the 38-year-old Cassell, who signed as a free agent on March 4 after playing with the Los Angeles Clippers.

"Actually it was a very good stretch," Rivers said. "I don't like it but loved it today. What I don't like about it, and I was wrong, I was worried about it defensively, but honestly they were terrific defensively. Maybe it's a lineup that we can use. They play off of each other very well."

"I think it's a definitely a good opportunity (to work on some things for the playoffs)," Rondo said. "For me and Sam to play together, the first time playing a lot of minutes, I think we did a good job."

Those performances came on a night in which Rivers rested Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. The trio had been playing 20-25 minutes recently but with the postseason just five days away, Rivers elected to rest them completely.

"They didn't play any of their (main) guys and they still won," New York guard Nate Robinson said. "They still played hard. They showed how hard they played. It will be interesting to see how far they make it."

Rivers fielded a starting lineup of forward James Posey, forward Leon Powe and guard Tony Allen starting alongside Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins. He also gave nearly 31 minutes to Cassell, who scored 15 fourth-quarter points in Saturday's win at Atlanta.

Rondo and Cassell played the entire fourth quarter and were a combined 8-of-14 while scoring 21 of Boston's 26 points. That came after the Celtics trailed by five at halftime and two after three quarters.

"In the playoffs, you got to go with whatever (works)," Cassell said. "And tonight, that was the case. We went small. You got two ball-handlers on the court.

"Rajon scored the ball, slashing to the hoop, made some jump shots and found me for a couple of threes. That's what you're going to have for us to be successful."

Rondo also finished with 10 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the year. He fell one point shy of his career high set against Cassell and the Clippers on February 6 and two boards shy of his career best set January 31 against Dallas.

"I was just trying to get the win, trying to close out the game," Rondo said. "Sam took some shots, I took some. We made them tonight."

Despite the play of Rondo and Cassell, it was still a struggle to seal matters.

The Celtics had a 92-88 edge in the final two minutes and eventually clinched the series sweep when Cassell hit a 3-pointer with 56.4 seconds remaining.

After Robinson converted a three-point play on the next possession, rookie Glen Davis grabbed the offensive rebound off Cassell's miss and hit two foul shots with 26 seconds remaining.

Robinson scored 26 points and David Lee collected 12 and 16 rebounds for New York, which finished 15-26 at home.

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