A cortisone shot was seemingly all Ray Allen needed to return to the Celtics’ starting lineup.
Allen, who missed six straight games with a sore right ankle, said the shot gave him increased flexibility, allowing him to return for Wednesday night’s game against the Spurs.
And coach Doc Rivers quieted any potential controversy by inserting Allen back into the starting lineup, replacing the flourishing Avery Bradley.
Allen finished with 5 points - including a key 3-pointer with 39.8 seconds left - 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 35 minutes in the Celtics’ 87-86 loss to San Antonio.
The Celtics believed Allen would return earlier, but he experienced discomfort before games against the Timberwolves and Heat. He received the shot prior to Sunday’s win over Miami, and practiced Tuesday.
“I don’t know what 100 percent feels like,’’ he said. “During the season, it’s hard to say that. That number is mythical. I don’t know anybody in this locker room who has felt that. You just kind of manage how you can and get out there, and if you can do the job, that’s what you are striving for.’’
Allen had no issue running the floor and didn’t get many shot attempts because of the matchup with athletic San Antonio swingman Danny Green.
“I just know my body so well and the difference coming in today and even practicing yesterday is a night-and-day difference,’’ Allen said. “Just being able to push and get lift. Once I woke up this morning and I moved around, that’s always the first indication when I get out of bed. I didn’t have those [pain] issues the last day or two. Once I got to the gym, it was just managing it.’’
Allen was hesitant to get a cortisone shot, and has had fewer than five in his career.
They used to be fierce rivals when Tim Duncan was an emerging star in San Antonio and Kevin Garnett was the franchise player in Minnesota, but now they are among the league’s elder statesmen. They continue to play at a high level, although in shorter stretches.
Rivers and San Antonio counterpart Gregg Popovich have to limit their minutes to maximize production.
The two had good nights defensively. Garnett finished with 16 points on 7-for-19 shooting with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Duncan was 4 of 12 from the field with 10 points and 16 rebounds.
“He’s like Timmy. He’s like fine wine,’’ Popovich said of Garnett. “They figure out what they need to do. They’re intelligent people. They know what they do well. They know what they possibly don’t do as well as they used to, and so they figure out new ways to do things. They both have high basketball IQs and you see them both having very good seasons.
“I’m sure Doc wants a fresh, healthy Kevin Garnett, the way he’s playing now. I think it took the Celtics awhile after the lockout to get going, to get some rust off. Kevin has definitely removed any semblance of rust. He’s playing great, that’s exactly how Doc will want him for the playoffs. If there’s a situation where rest is appropriate, I’m sure he’ll think about it, too.’’
Popovich began the practice of resting his veteran starters on back-to-back games, and games after playing heavy minutes.
“We’ve always taken care and I think played our top players less than most any team,’’ he said. “This really isn’t anything new for us. So going down the stretch here, we’re a lot more concerned with health and energy than we are wins and losses, as long as we’re theoretically getting better.’’
Paul Pierce on Wednesday was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month after helping the Celtics to a 12-5 record in March and first place in the Atlantic Division.
Pierce averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, and had six games of 25 or more points, including a season-high 36 at Charlotte on March 26.
Kevin Durant of the Thunder was the winner for the Western Conference.
“It’s a testament of the hard work I put in,’’ Pierce said. “Consistency over the years, over the season, great teammates giving me these opportunities. You have so many great players in the Eastern Conference, to have [the award] for the whole month, it’s a good honor.’’
A Pietrus sighting
Mickael Pietrus was at the game, watching this time without sunglasses or the towel over his head. He spent time in the Spurs’ locker room talking to fellow Frenchmen Boris Diaw and Tony Parker. It is uncertain when Pietrus will begin his NBA-mandated concussion tests . . . Rivers called the Spurs and Bulls, Thursday’s opponents, the “two best benches’’ in the NBA. The Spurs go 11 deep with the additions of Patty Mills, Stephen Jackson, and Diaw . . . Pierce did not have much to say about Kentucky’s wire-to-wire victory over Kansas, his alma mater, in Monday’s NCAA championship game . . . The Spurs started San Diego State rookie Kawhi Leonard and brought Manu Ginobili off the bench . . . Kentucky coach John Calipari attended the game with his coaching staff and received a tepid response from the Garden crowd. Calipari coached the UMass team that reached the national championship game in 1996, but had to vacate that Final Four appearance because of NCAA violations.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe