He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.
“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics  head coach Doc Rivers . “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.’
Take Paul Pierce  as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.
“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”
The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen , who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”
Then again, Pierce was improbable five minutes before returning Thursday and Kevin Garnett  was probable days before missing the entire 2009 playoff run. Who knows? Rest did wonders for Garnett, Rajon Rondo  and Mickael Pietrus , who showed no signs of their respective hip, back and knee injuries in the win over the Bucks.
- Garnett (11 MIN, 4 PTS, 3 AST, 2 REB): “I feel really good. I’m looking forward to the playoffs.”
- Pietrus (19.5 MIN, 9 PTS, 4-10 FG, 2 REB): “I was moving pretty well. Just trying to be Mickael Pietrus. I just try to get in, help my team the best way I can, try to get ready for the playoffs.”
- Rondo (25 MIN, 15 AST, 4 STL, 0 PTS): “It’s fine. It’s as good as it’s going to get, I think.”
Two road games to start their first-round series against the Hawks is the downside of resting everyone down the stretch from Rondo to Greg Stiemsma , who stayed off the plantar fasciitis in his left foot and bone bruise in his right foot for a second straight game but has played through those injuries for at least a month. Should the Celtics have conceded home court advantage by playing a depleted roster in a 97-92 loss to the Hawks a week ago?
“Looking at Kevin, the way he ran [Thursday], I was happy with the choice,” said Rivers of the decision. “He looked like his legs were back, and so for me that answered the question.”
Count Pietrus among those whose injuries flared up as the result of this season’s hectic schedule. Rivers admitted playing him three nights in a row from April 13-15 was a mistake. The good news is the playoff schedule  doesn’t even feature back-to-backs, let alone three games in three nights.
“I mean, listen, we’re banged up,” said Rivers. “I’m hoping everybody is.”
The Hawks certainly are. They’ll likely start the series without their top two centers in Al Horford (torn pectoral) and Zaza Pachulia  (strained left foot). Even the Bulls — the C’s potential second-round opponent — have battled their share of injuries to Derrick Rose , Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton . Believe it or not, the Celtics might be one of the healthier teams entering the 2012 playoffs, a reflection on the oddities of a post-lockout season.
“I always wished to play for the Celtics,” said Pietrus. “Now I want to give them the best shot. I want to play hard for them to give them a chance to win the championship. And for myself, too. We have to stay focused on Celtics basketball, and that’s what we’ve been doing. I think we can do it. It’s wide open. It reminds me of ’98 when we went into a lockout and San Antonio won. Everything was open.”
(Have a question, concern or conception for the next Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach  on Twitter.)