Age talk is old news to them

Paul Pierce celebrated his 32nd birthday earlier this month, and it seemed like everyone across the NBA took note of the number of candles jammed on top of his cake.

Such is the case when "age" is about the only question mark critics can identify when assessing the 2009-10 Celtics. On paper, and by their own admission, this year's Celtics squad may be deeper and more talented than the championship squad of two seasons ago.

But the team has endured a steady stream of questions about whether this year's squad can stand up to the rigors of an 82-game schedule and beyond.

According to the Celtics, it's getting, well, old.

Ray Allen is 34. Kevin Garnett is 33. Rasheed Wallace, the team's top free-agent acquisition and likely the first player off the bench this season, is the oldest at 35.

For every John Stockton, who retired at the age of 41, there are a handful of NBA hoopsters who didn't make it to their mid-30s. Former Celtics star Antoine Walker played his last NBA game before his 32nd birthday. The end can come fast.

Consider this: Tyronn Lue, recently named to the Celtics' coaching staff as director of basketball development, is only five months older than Pierce. The Celtics stress Lue's playing days are over.

But bring up age to the Big Three and they become cranky old men, if only because they're adamant it won't affect their championship aspirations.

"Tell me I'm getting old and then give me the ball," said Allen. "Then let's see what happens."

But not even Allen can deny that there are a lot of miles on the Celtics' odometer. The Big Three plus Wallace have combined for 52 NBA seasons and, if you include the postseason, 4,199 total games (each player has at least 1,000 games, except Pierce at 890).

What's more, those players have combined for an astounding 154,008 minutes of game action. Garnett alone has logged 42,624 minutes in his career. If they stay healthy, Allen (38,162) and Wallace (39,596) will both eclipse the 40,000 mark this season. Pierce (33,627), meanwhile, is creeping up on the 34,443 regular-season minutes Larry Bird logged during his 13-year career in Boston.

How exactly does Celtics coach Doc Rivers limit the wear and tear on his veterans?

"I go to the Baptist church, the Catholic church, I cover all my bases," joked Rivers. "I'm a Baptist that went to Marquette, so I got those two covered. Other than that, you try to manage minutes, but you also know you gotta play them a certain amount of minutes to keep their rhythm. It's a fine line, but they can handle it."

Rivers went easy on his troops during the preseason. The team engaged in one-a-day workouts during training camp and often shortened preseason practice sessions. Boston also will try to get players more rest this season, eliminating morning shootarounds on game days and practicing later on non-game days.

Garnett declared himself in full health after missing 25 games last season with a knee injury that required offseason surgery to remove bone spurs. He cautions against worrying too much about his age or health.

"In my younger years, I felt a lot better," said Garnett. "But that doesn't necessarily mean I feel bad these days."

What those who are fixated on the age of the Big Three often overlook is that the Celtics started three players under the age of 24 in last year's playoffs: Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis.

The Celtics' average age to start the 2009-10 season is approximately 28. The Lakers averaged 27.7 years when they won the NBA title last season.

Allen, whose contract expires at the end of the season, knows the critics won't be silenced until the Celtics hoist an 18th championship banner to the rafters. But here's one reason to trust him: He has never felt better.

Allen recently declared himself in the best shape of his career, noting that the soreness in his ankles that lingered after surgery following the 2006-07 season has finally dissipated. Allen often ran shirtless sprints to close out practice sessions and not even those could tire him out completely.

"Once we start playing basketball, age doesn't matter," said Allen. "You just go out there and do what you're capable of doing on the floor. Last year, people wanted to say that Paul and I got tired. I was, at no point, tired. I train enough and condition enough to be at the top of my game at all times. That never has been an issue for any of us. We know how to play the game."

And all these questions about age? They're old news to the Celtics.

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.