BOSTON (AP)—In the past two days, New England’s most celebrated right knee — and to this point, the focal point of the NBA finals—has been encased in ice, undergone electrical stimulation therapy, even had lasers fired at it.
Paul Pierce’s knee has been primped, prodded and pampered like never before.
It’s not 100 percent, but it’s good enough.
Pierce, who sprained his knee and made a dramatic return in Boston’s series-opening win over the Los Angeles Lakers after being carried off the floor in the second half, said Saturday that he will “definitely” play in Game 2 on Sunday.
“Once those lights come on and the popcorn starts popping, I’ll be ready,” declared the Celtics’ All-Star forward and captain.
Wearing a black elastic brace and white sleeve over his injury, Pierce reported that his knee was less swollen. He’s still not able to bend it the way he’d like, but Pierce feels with another 24 hours of rest and treatment that he’ll be able to start.
How effective he’ll be is another story.
“Knowing my threshold of pain, to go out there and play shouldn’t be a problem,” said Pierce, who only planned to shoot free throws and walk through some plays on Saturday. “It should be something I should be able to do.”
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins also expects to be in the starting lineup after spraining his left ankle in Game 1.
Following his news conference, Pierce walked gingerly toward the court in TD Banknorth Garden with only the slightest sign of a limp. When he finally joined his teammates on the floor, Pierce grabbed a ball and was soon being playfully guarded by teammate Sam Cassell, who jammed his forearm into Pierce’s back and dared him to shoot.
“You gonna talk all day?” Cassell chirped, “or are you gonna ball?”
Pierce’s playing status, and skepticism about the severity of his injury, have been the dominant topics of conversation in the renewed rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics, who are meeting in the finals for the first time since 1987.
On Friday, Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson raised a few eyebrows by wondering if Pierce had been overly dramatic about the injury.
Moments after he was lifted from the floor by teammates and placed in a wheelchair, Pierce jogged back out of the tunnel to a thundering ovation and quickly made consecutive 3-pointers as the Celtics took control and went on to a 98-88 win. Jackson dismissed comparisons between Pierce’s comeback and one made by Willis Reed in the 1970 NBA finals, and even joked that noted faith healer Oral Roberts must have been in Boston’s locker room to perform a miracle.
Jackson said he had not received any negative feedback about his pithy comments, which he hoped were being taken in the proper vain.
“Well, we really should have a lot of fun about this; this is sports, after all,” Jackson said. “These are fun and games. “I kid the NBA about taking the fun out of the finals, but this is still fun. We try to make this fun.”
Fun? The Lakers and Celtics? They’re supposed to feud and fight, right?
Back in the 1980s during the height of their rivalry, the idea of laughter and any good-natured kidding between the clubs would have been greeted with a sharp elbow to the ribs. But these days, the league’s signature franchises aren’t nearly as blood thirsty as their predecessors.
Gone are the days when the showers in the visiting locker room at the old Boston Garden dispensed only cold water, and Lakers players no longer have to worry about being turned away at local restaurants because of their affiliation to the purple-and-gold.
“Beat L.A.” remains this city’s rallying cry. The hatred, though, seems to have been replaced by a kind of harmony.
“I’ve heard stories in the past of them coming here and not getting room service and stuff like that,” Kobe Bryant said. “I mean, my room service is cool. I got the nice apple pie with the ice cream on top, a la mode. I didn’t even ask for the ice cream, but they hooked me up.
“I’ve heard horror stories in the ’80s when the guys came here. It’s not like that. There’s a healthy competition, and they obviously want to win, the city wants to win, but it’s not like, ‘I hate your guts.”’
Boston fans would show more love for Bryant, if the superstar continues to struggle with his outside shot.
He went just 9-for-26 in Game 1 and has only made 33 percent (24-of-72) of his attempts in three games—all losses—against the Celtics this season. It would be hard to imagine Bryant having another clunker, and Jackson wouldn’t even consider the possibility.
“He’s been an unstoppable force in this game,” Jackson said. “He usually doesn’t have two games in a row that are bad. He comes back and plays better. So we anticipate that’s going to be a pattern.”
The Celtics, too, are expecting a more consistent effort from Kevin Garnett, their defensive leader who may have to carry more of the offensive load if Pierce is slowed by his bad knee. Garnett started strongly in Game 1 and finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. But he was only 3-for-13 in the second half, missing nine consecutive shots in one stretch and went only 1-of-6 from the floor in the fourth quarter.
Garnett has promised to make amends for his poor finish, and Pierce is sure the ultra-intense KG will keep his word.
“He’s so hard on himself. He wants to play the perfect game,” Pierce said. “We’re all like that in our ways. And if a bad game is 24 and 13, I can’t wait until he has a good game.”