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Scott Souza:

BOSTON - So much for sticking with the reserves.

Two days after Doc Rivers played his reserves for longer stretches without Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce or Ray Allen on the floor with them - then stating after the game that he planned to remain with the strategy as he prepared the bench for the playoffs - all bets were off at the Garden tonight as Rivers went after a victory over the Suns like it was the playoffs.

Ray Allen played 45 minutes, Paul Pierce played 38 and Kevin Garnett played a season-average 34 as the Celtics wore down the Suns in a playoff-feel battle on national television.

Perhaps it was the two-game losing streak - or the way the players reacted to not winning a game in nearly a week - that spurred the effort. Maybe it was the three days home - and the first real practice in more than three weeks - that convinced Rivers it wasn’t time to put the reins on just yet.

It makes perfect sense to do some of the mixing and matching of combinations Rivers did with the lineup on Monday as the Celtics near the playoffs over the next couple of weeks. It just didn’t seem like it was time yet against the Sixers, it evidently wasn’t the time tonight against the Suns, and one would guess it won’t be the time on Friday against the Hornets as the Celtics try to beat the only team they have yet to this season.

Starting Sunday against the Heat? All bets are off. …