- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Celtics took Saturday off. Doc Rivers doesn't want to see anyone -- anyone -- over at the practice facility.
"They're exhausted," Rivers said of his players following Boston's 90-84 overtime victory Friday night over the Atlanta Hawks, a victory that gave the Celtics a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. "It's unusual in the playoffs to take a day off. They need one."
They do indeed. Maybe more than one.
Rivers took one look at the box score and said, "Too many minutes." Paul Pierce played 47 minutes, his second-longest stint of the season. Kevin Garnett played an even 42 minutes. It was his longest stint of the season and only the second time he's gone more than 40. Rajon Rondo went 49 minutes for his longest stint of the season.
Oh, and welcome back, Ray Allen, who played 37 minutes in his first action since April 10. One of the reasons the Celtics rested Saturday: "I don't want Ray in the gym, because he would do something," Rivers said.
And here's the real stunner. The above four players, along with Mickael Pietrus, constituted the entire Celtics lineup for the final 2:06 of the third period, the entire fourth quarter and all of the overtime. That's 19:06 without a substitution.
Rivers said he decided against resting Garnett midway through the fourth quarter, which he usually does. He detected his team was ready to make a move, which it did. But it didn't last.
"We took the gamble and we thought we could push the score out. We got it to 11, but they came right back," Rivers said. "Sometimes, as a coach, you take a gamble and think maybe we can put this one away and get guys out. But it backfired. We didn't put them away."
They almost got put away, instead, which would have made it doubly depressing. But Rivers really had no other option. Avery Bradley left the game at the end of the third quarter with a left shoulder injury. Rivers, who rolled the dice with Marquis Daniels in Game 2 in Atlanta, instead stayed with that same lineup, probably because he felt he needed to have a win.
"You're not winning the game if you don't play those guys big minutes," said ESPN analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy. "The Celtics just don't have the quality depth that they had in their championship years. I thought Doc did a great job of managing the guys' minutes throughout the year. But right now, he needs those guys to play huge minutes."
The Celtics may lead this series, but it seems to be a tenuous advantage at best. We don't know about Bradley's status. We don't know how Allen's right ankle is going to respond to his extended minutes. We don't know how the thirtysomethings will respond to the mega minutes.
"Obviously, we've got our work cut out for us as far as the minutes, but so do they," said Pierce. "They played a lot of guys a lot of minutes. It's just what this series is -- grind it out. Whoever's going to be the most mentally tough team is going to win."
Neither team distinguished itself Friday night. There were 33 turnovers. The Hawks shot 38 percent, the Celtics 40.5 percent. Pierce missed nine of 12 shots but still had 21 points with a classic, Adrian Dantley line: 3-12 FG, 14-14 FT, 21 points. Rondo put up a triple-double despite missing 15 of 22 shots -- including a breakaway layup -- and turning it over six times. Bradley missed an uncontested dunk.
The shooting percentages from Game 3 mirror the series percentages. The 3-point shooting has been abysmal for both teams. It has been a war of attrition, with the Hawks losing Josh Smith in Game 2 and the Celtics losing Bradley in Game 3. Oh, and there was the Rondo "incident" in Game 1.
"It's not artistic basketball, obviously," Van Gundy said. "But both teams have had so many injuries that to expect them to play efficient offensively is asking a lot, especially when everyone is playing so many minutes that they're not used to playing. I think you saw two very tired groups. Sometimes it can be unsightly in the playoffs, but in this case, I think it's injuries, fatigue and some of these teams are locked in defensively."
Joe Johnson, meanwhile, is shooting 35 percent from the field. He still is Atlanta's best -- some might say only -- scoring threat. The Hawks were without Smith on Friday and might be without him Sunday; he has a strained tendon in his left knee. Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia have yet to play in the series. Tracy McGrady hurt his ankle but came back to play.
And yet the Hawks were a Willie Green jumper away from possibly stealing a win to take the series lead themselves.
"We feel our chances are just as good as theirs," Johnson said. "Unfortunately we've got three key bigs that aren't able to play. That's a minor setback. But we still had a great chance to win this game. ... We're still very confident. The series is far from over."
What we've seen over three games tends to support Johnson. The games have all been close; the teams have played six times this season and the Celtics have scored a total of four more points. Still, conventional wisdom had the Celtics as the presumptive favorite; ESPN's own statistical analysis before the series started gave the Celtics a 65 percent chance of winning even though Atlanta had the home-court advantage.
The odds looked even better for Boston when Smith was ruled a scratch for Game 3. One fan turned to his buddy and said, "We're going to see Gino tonight," a reference to the dancing video clip the Celtics play in blowout wins.
There was no Gino sighting in Game 3, and the way this series is playing out, there won't be one on Sunday, either. It's too close.
The Celtics held serve, as the saying goes, in Game 3. Rivers might not have wanted to grind his guys as much as he did, but if he hadn't, there's a good chance the Celtics might be down 2-1 instead. The margin for error in this series is that thin.
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