Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo know the deal. They are professional athletes, expected to go full-bore whenever the clock is running, and their legs are not going to fall off just because they played a few extra plays.
Their bodies can only take so much wear, though, and the Celtics' 84-79 defeat in Toronto on Friday forced them to play more minutes than would have been ideal in the first part of Boston's dreaded back-to-back-to-back stretch.
Rest was Celtics coach Doc Rivers' thinking when he sat all five starters to open the second quarter. Rivers wanted a blowout victory so he could give his first unit something like a half-night off, but the Raptors had other ideas. By the end of the game, Pierce had played 34 minutes, Rondo had logged 37 minutes and the Celtics did not even have a win to show for it.
"I thought our guys looked tired early on, and I said that to our [assistant] coaches," Rivers said. "That's why I wanted to try to give them some rest in the first half. It hurts when you burn minutes in the second half and you still don't win the game."
Even in the recent inspired run, the Celtics showed two obvious weaknesses: rebounding and road-to-road back-to-backs. The rebounding thing at least is a work in progress, with the Celtics actually pulling even with their opponents at 43 rebounds per game in the last seven games. But the last two times they had two road games in two days, the Celtics dropped the second game, to the Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.
This trip features the Celtics' last stretch of road games in consecutive nights, and it will be their first time playing three games in a three-night span. If history predicts the future — and Friday's result in Toronto suggests it might — the Celtics' playoff seeding could be in jeopardy.
The Celtics entered Friday 1-4 in the first leg of road back-to-backs (dropping to 1-5 with the loss to the Raptors), and 1-4 on the second leg. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics' most immediate competition for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, gets a day off after their win over the Orlando Magic on Friday and have only one back-to-back the rest of the season.
There could be a resounding victory in Boston's future, possibly as soon as Saturday against the Nets. The Celtics' record to this point does not bode well for that, and neither do the minutes the Celtics were forced to play Friday.