The Lions squandered a 14-point lead at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington in their final midweek outing of the 2017 tour.
Four of the visitors' eight replacements did not play a part in the entertaining contest, with Scotland international Finn Russell the only 'geographical' back-up to come off the bench.
Gatland insists that his decision was down to 'protecting the jersey', having faced much criticism when calling up Russell, Allan Dell, Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies earlier in the tour because they were all in Australasia at the time.
"So much was made about devaluing the jersey, so we made a decision we would try and get through the game with as many of the starting XV as we could," BBC Sport quotes him as saying.
"I understand people's views, so you've got to take cognisance of that. We made a collective decision that we would make them injury or HIA (head injury assessment) replacements, which is what happened on two occasions."
Lions now face New Zealand in back-to-back matches, aiming to overturn a 1-0 deficit in the three-Test series.