Celtics cut minutes of Big Four in Game 4

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Celtics cut minutes of Big Four in Game 4

BOSTON In the course of a long playoff run, there are bound to be nights when the stars align perfectly and the basketball gods reward players and teams with a near-perfect night of basketball.

You could say the Boston Celtics had one of those nights in whipping the Atlanta Hawks, 101-79, in Game 4 on Sunday.

More than just a win, the C's also got another added benefit with the lopsided victory -- rest for their core guys.

For most of this series, Boston's Big Four have been logging big minutes.

Pierce came into Game 4 averaging more than 40 minutes per game, the kind of postseason court time Pierce hasn't seen in a decade.

Ray Allen was still working himself into form, playing in just his second game after missing nearly a month due to a right ankle injury. In his first game back (Game 3), he played 37 minutes - more than anyone anticipated heading into the game.

And then there's Kevin Garnett, whose minutes are always a concern to Rivers and have been an even greater concern in the playoffs because of how high they were in the first three games.

That all changed on Sunday.

Pierce led all scorers with 24 points, but did so in less than 17 minutes. "He came out extremely focused," said C's guard Keyon Dooling. "10-for-13 in 16 minutes is pretty amazing."

Garnett had 13 points and five rebounds, doing so in 27 minutes. Ray Allen was on the floor for 19 minutes and finished with 12 points.

The only Celtic player from among the Big Four to play a good deal of minutes was Rondo, who had 20 points and 16 assists with just one turnover, while seeing a team-high 35 minutes of court action.

While the reason for their reduced minutes - a blowout win - is the kind of thing the Celtics will take everyday, it does raise the always-relevant argument between rest vs. rhythm.

"Players like to play," Rivers said. "I always tell you guys that; they really do. I mean, if you gave them their druthers they would probably say, 'well I'd rather play 30 minutes,' because they're rhythmic; they like playing."

But Rivers sees the big picture in all this.

If Boston is to make the kind of deep playoff run they're anticipating, it's sure to take a lot out of all their players, especially the Big Three and Rondo.

So any opportunity this time of year to get them some added rest and still win, has to be embraced for all its worth.

"If you can get two or three of these type of games," Rivers said. "Then it has to help."

Raptors, in pursuit of Celtics in playoff race, lose Lowry for perhaps rest of regular season

Raptors, in pursuit of Celtics in playoff race, lose Lowry for perhaps rest of regular season

The Eastern Conference playoff race, seemingly altered by the moves -- and non-moves (hello there, Celtics) -- of some of the contenders, just took another twist.

The Raptors, bolstered by the acquisition of Serge Ibaka and appearing poised to make a run toward the top of the standings after a come-from-behind victory over the Celtics on Friday, were hit with a body blow Monday when it was announced All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry needs surgery on his right wrist and may miss the remainder of the regular season.

ESPN reports Lowry is expected to be sidelined from four to eight weeks. Toronto hopes to have him back for the playoffs.

The Raptors are currently in fourth place in the conference at 35-24, trailing Cleveland (40-17), Boston (38-21) and Washington (34-23). Without Lowry, and facing a rough, six-of-their-next-seven-games-on-the-road stretch, Toronto may stop focusing on catching the Wizards and/or Celtics and focus on holding off Atlanta (32-26) in order to hold onto home-court in the first round.

Lowry, 30, who missed the last two games because of the injury, is averaging a career-best 22.8 points per game. He also is averaging 6.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds.

Dennis Schroder doubles down on claims Isaiah Thomas took family trash talk too far

Dennis Schroder doubles down on claims Isaiah Thomas took family trash talk too far

Dennis Schroder isn't backing down.

The Atlanta Hawks point guard again was asked about Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, and the budding rivalry between the two players that's turned into a rivalry between the two teams. Thomas, of course, was accused by Schroder of taking his trash talking a bit too far during the teams' last meeting, a 103-101 Celtics victory last month in which Thomas hit the game-winning shot with just seconds remaining.

Thomas' comments allegedly were about Schroder's family, per Schroder himself. Thomas has since repeatedly denied the claims. So does Schroder still deny Thomas' side of the story?

“I mean, yeah. Everybody heard it, too," Schroder said. "My family sat courtside too. And (Hawks teammate) Thabo (Sefolosha) heard some things, you know, and he was involved in it. But it is what it is. Like I said, we just try to compete. And you know, it’s getting heated in the game. It is what it is."

Schroder didn't dive much deeper than denying Thomas' claims of innocence. But is there something about Thomas inparticular that gets under Schroder's skin or runs him the wrong way?

Nah, I mean he’s a great player, he’s showing it this year," Schroder said. "I mean, what he did in the playoffs last year was just not, you know, professional. And I think nobody wants to see that but it’s fine. We just try to compete and try to help our team win the basketball game."

Schroder was referring to the back-and-forth physical play between himself and Thomas that resulted in flagrant fouls for both during the first-round playoff matchup betweein the clubs, a series Atlanta eventually won four games to two. Thomas' status was in doubt for Game 4 of the series after a hit to Schroder's head in Game 3, but the now two-time All-Star ultimately was allowed to play.

"Everybody’s competitive. Everybody tries to get out, get after it," Schroder explained when asked if his feud with Thomas fuels his team any extra. "I think it’s a big game tonight and the team knows it. I’m pretty sure the Celtics know it too. It’s getting close to the playoffs and every game counts."

Boston and Atlanta tip off from TD Garden at 7:30 p.m.