ATLANTA - Now that has a place in NBA Finals lore, Celtics coach has an automatic joke whenever his captain gets hurt. ``We have the wheelchair ready for him over there in the corner,'' Rivers said before last night's 88-85 victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
Pierce played despite lingering swelling and tenderness in his left knee. He was injured Monday night at the Garden in a win over the Utah Jazz.
Judging from his 40-minute, 18-point contribution against the Hawks, the knee didn't outwardly appear to have much affect on Pierce's effort. But there might have been more to a 7-for-17 performance from the field than a poor shooting night.
``I didn't have the lift I wanted,'' Pierce said. ``But it is what it is. It's a little sore right now, but I'm just going to take it day by day and see how it feels.''
Rivers started the night prepared to pull Pierce out of the game at the first sign of distress. As the contest progressed, the coach felt comfortable enough, or maybe urgent enough, to leave his captain in the game.
``He looked pretty good,'' Rivers said. ``On our pick-and-roll he was not as aggressive as he normally is, but he was great out there.''
Rivers acknowledged that the Celtics had a conversation with free agent center last week.
``I know this much: He's coming back,'' Rivers said.
As when they approached after the big man was traded from Detroit to Denver, only to be let go by the Nuggets, the Celtics are part of a large pool of suitors for Mutombo, the 7-foot-4, 42-year-old shot blocker.
Rivers believes Mutombo will return to his last employer in Houston. The Rockets have left his locker open with the hope that he will be back.
``We're over the (salary) cap, so it would be difficult,'' Rivers said of the potential for adding Mutumbo.
``But we're looking at everybody right now. I think (Mutombo) is going back to where he was, so we'll see.'' . . .
The Celtics had a brief scare just prior to the game when slipped on a wet spot and landed on his right knee. Trainer checked on Big Baby, who was pronounced fit for action.
Davis scored two points in 13 minutes.
As a means of promoting the playoff rematch, the Hawks marketing staff featured a picture of and in the game program from their altercation during Game 4 of the first-round series.
``Anything to sell some tickets, huh?'' Garnett said with a grunt, understanding exactly what is the problem at Philips Arena.
Despite an exciting young team, Atlanta still has yet to embrace the Hawks with the passion marked by last April's series, though last night's non-sellout crowd made up in noise for what it lacked in numbers. Hip-hop icon and Atlanta resident performed at halftime, a sign that any measure is welcomed to bring back the crowd.
``You definitely expect that after what they did (in last spring's playoffs) they would get a better atmosphere,'' Pierce said. ``They're pretty much in my mind a playoff team.''
Former Celtics point guard , now an NBA analyst based out of the home of the Hawks, received a long-lost item.
The future Hall of Famer picked up his 8,000th career assist while with the C's, but left the ball in his locker at the Garden three years ago following his only season with the team. , the C's vice president of media relations, kept the ball at his house until this road trip.
Twiss took a cab over to the Turner Broadcasting building and delivered Payton's prize.
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