WALTHAM, Mass. — Ryan Hollins has not been to playoffs since 2008-09, when he was a useful sub for the Mavericks. He is back in the postseason with the Celtics, but the seventh-year veteran is not excited about the opportunity.
"I'm more than excited," Hollins said. "Playoffs are so much fun. It's the best basketball you can play. I'm definitely thrilled to be in this situation and it was a big part of my choice to come here."
Hollins has had trouble gaining minutes this season, even with the Celtics' lack of depth up front, and he will be no higher than third in the center rotation in the playoffs behind Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma. But given Garnett's closely watched substitution pattern and Stiemsma's tendency to get into foul trouble, Hollins could end up playing a few important spurts against the Hawks.
Season-ending injuries to Jermaine O'Neal and Chris Wilcox convinced the Celtics to take nothing for granted when it comes to their big men, which is why they signed Hollins in late March and added Sean Williams last week. Head coach Doc Rivers has few luxuries with his frontcourt, but he considers having four usable bodies beneficial.
"It's what we have," Rivers said. "Stiemer and Ryan and Sean, one of them [will need to play]. Stiemer's in the rotation but those other guys, like Ryan, he's just a live body out on the floor. He's going to foul. Him and Stiemer, they're going to have a foul competition. That's who they are. But that's fine by us. They foul hard. They don't mean to, but that's good."
Depth up front may not be as big an issue against the Hawks, who are similarly thin in the post. Center Al Horford has been out since January with a torn left pectoral muscle and is expected to miss the series. Zaza Pachulia, who averaged 14.5 points and 10 rebounds in two games against the Celtics this season, will miss at least the start of the series with a sprained ligament in his left foot. Josh Smith and Ivan Johnson could still present problems for the Celtics, but not as many as Boston would face if all four of Atlanta's big man rotation were healthy.
The Celtics biggest advantage down low, though, will be the same one that may have turned around their season. Garnett will have a clear advantage at center, even when Smith slides up to that position, due to Garnett's elite passing and defensive ability. While Stiemsma will play meaningful minutes and Hollins and Williams will have to remain ready, just in case, Garnett may once again be the key — even if he despises it.
"I hate the five spot," Garnett said. "I don't keep track of how I'm playing. I go by how my body's feeling. Obviously, I'm a confident person. You put me anywhere on the floor, I'm going to play it to the best of my ability. It's not a preference of mine, but it's something my team needs so I don't think about it."
The backups are excited. Garnett is in a foul mood about something. It must be playoff time.