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Dan Shaughnessy

Don't worry, they're up to the minutes

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 30, 2009
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CHICAGO - Let's take a minute to talk about minutes.

You've got the three-minute egg, four-minute mile, six-minute abs, Minute Maid OJ, minute rice, UMass Minutemen, the Doobie Brothers' "Minute by Minute," and everybody's favorite, the New York Minute.

And then you've got those ever-expanding "minutes played" in the NBA playoff box scores.

Paul Pierce played 51 minutes en route to personally winning Game 5 in overtime over the Bulls in the Garden Tuesday night. Rajon Rondo played 49. Kendrick Perkins, 48. This was after Sunday's double-overtime thriller in which Rondo played 55 minutes, Pierce 52. Chicago guard Ben Gordon played 51 Tuesday and he allegedly has a strained hamstring.

As this series stretches to Game 6 tonight, we have a lot of fans and media members talking about exhaustion and minutes.

Rubbish.

Listen to captain Pierce in the midnight hour after he beat the Bulls Tuesday.

"You've got to understand, this is not - when we grew up playing basketball, you may play like three or four games in one day."

That's it right there. Pierce is reminding us what Larry Bird said long ago and what players have been saying since the first ball went through a peach basket . . .

This is a game. Players grow up playing the game 10-12 hours per day. There is no such thing as exhaustion when a dedicated professional athlete is involved in the second overtime of a playoff game.

Let's start by reminding ourselves that the Celtics and Bulls are not digging ditches or carrying hods. Playing basketball is not as exhausting as working in a coal mine. It's not as mentally taxing as standing in a factory assembly line, trying to make the time pass, realizing it's still an hour and a half until the next cigarette/coffee break.

You want to hear the voice of exhaustion? Talk to a single, working parent of a sick child. Don't talk to Paul Pierce or Doc Rivers.

"Clearly, I'm not managing minutes," Rivers said Tuesday. "I'm playing guys 50 minutes. They're basketball players. That's what we do. You know? We get days off in between. Hell, we play all day. And that's our attitude. If we had to play guys 60 minutes, we'll do it. Hell, what else is there to do right now?"

Added Pierce, "When you're in the close games and it's the playoffs, it's mental, and you don't really think about it."

Sounds like Yogi, no? It's mental and you don't really think about it.

Rivers reminds us that these are conditioned athletes, not weekend warriors.

Think about kids who love to play ball, or skate. Ever hear one of them want to come back into the house because he or she is tired? No. When you live to play you stay on the court, the field, the ice, because it's what you love. I remember playing basketball games that went right through dinner, then finally coming into the kitchen, looking out the window, and wondering how we were able to keep playing when it was so dark. That's the point. When you're involved in a game, you don't even notice that it's getting dark. Just like you don't notice that you're tired.

Here's what Bird told Bob Ryan in the middle of the 1987 playoffs, when Bird was averaging 46.6 minutes per game: "How many times have I told you? I can play all day. [Dennis Johnson] can play all day. Minutes don't mean nothing."

Bird interjected another thought.

"When there's a CBS game, it's a joke. K.C. [Jones] kept asking me if I wanted to come out and I'm sitting in the huddle for a minute and a half while he's asking. There are so many extra timeouts."

It's the same now, except it's TBS or ABC instead of CBS. In the playoffs, there are a lot of long breaks and the athletes have time to recover. The Celtics and Bulls had two days off between Games 2 and 3, and again between Games 3 and 4.

Don't expect the topic to dissolve. The Bulls are younger than the Celtics, and if Chicago wins tonight we'll be talking about fresh legs, four overtimes (at least) in six games, and playing the final four games in seven days with three flights in between. We'll be talking about Ray Allen's old bones and Perkins looking like Sonny Liston slumping on the stool in his corner in Miami after six rounds with young Cassius Clay.

Don't even think about it.

The Celtics will be eliminated from these playoffs one of these days. Plenty of time for rest then.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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