BOSTON When the playoffs arrive, it's a given that the best players will wind up playing more minutes than usual.
Still, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledges that this is a concern following Boston's 90-84 overtime win in Game 3 over the Atlanta Hawks.
Rivers is most concerned with the minutes of the Big Four - Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (ankle) who returned to the lineup after nearly a month off.
Rondo (45.6), Pierce (44.2) and Garnett (40.4) are all averaging more than 40 minutes per game, something that you rarely see after this many playoff games. And Ray Allen, in his first game in nearly a month, returned to play 37 minutes.
Rivers' plan as far as dispersing the minutes, certainly worked for the Celtics.
Much like this season, it didn't go quite how he planned.
Rivers acknowledges that he's not thrilled with the idea that his core guys are logging so many minutes. All are certainly worth being concerned about, but Garnett's playing time is most disturbing.
Garnett is the charter member of Rivers' '5-5-5' plan which is designed to limit the amount of minutes Garnett plays to five-minute bursts to start quarters, take him out for a few minutes, and bring him back to end the quarter.
He was especially concerned with Garnett's minutes.
"I got stuck with Kevin, honestly," Rivers said.
The time that Rivers usually takes Garnett out, was just when the C's were starting to put some distance between themselves and the Hawks.
So rather than risk throwing the team's rhythm off, Rivers decided to ride KG and company out until the very end.
After Atlanta's Jeff Teague had a dunk to tie the game at 60 early in the fourth, the C's went on a 16-5 run to take their biggest lead of the night, 76-65, following a jumper by Garnett.
Rivers was anticipating that the Celtics could increase the lead even more and thus, allow Garnett and company to get some rest in the game's final stages.
He was wrong.
The Hawks battled back, and before you knew it, the C's wound up with the same lineup - Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Mickael Pietrus and Garnett - having played every single second of the game from the 53-second mark in the third quarter, until the final horn sounding.
"So sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble - you think maybe we can get this, put this away, and get guys out," Rivers said. "And it backfired."
When the game went into overtime, and Rivers saw a tired bunch heading back on to the floor, he had no idea what to expect in the extra session.
"I was really worried going in the overtime, just looking at Paul, Kevin and Rondo," Rivers said. "They didn't look fresh."
Then Rivers gazed upon the players that his unit was about to finish the game off against.
"They looked pretty bad, too," Rivers said of the Hawks who, like his team, were a physically and mentally exhausted bunch. "So that made me feel a little bit better."
While it wasn't the most ideal way to get the victory, you won't find Rivers or any of his players complaining - especially after he gave them Saturday off.
"Playoffs are hard," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "Sometimes the coach is going to ask a lot out of you. I went the whole distance again during the second half. It proved worth it."