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 game against the Hawks, a game in which Pierce decided to play despite lingering swelling and tenderness in his left knee.
Pierce hyperextended the knee Monday night at the Garden when Utah's fell on top of him during a win against the Jazz. No tests, MRI or otherwise, have been performed on the joint.
``It felt good today,'' Pierce said after running through the morning shootaround at Georgia Tech. ``I wore a knee brace and it was fine, so I'll give it a go. But if we had to play (Tuesday) then I wouldn't have been able to go because of the way it felt. It's a little tender and there's a little swelling, but that's OK.
``I've done the normal stuff to get ready but you can never tell for sure until you're in a game situation.''
Pierce generally isn't the sort to let his coach know if he's hurting. Rivers was left to go strictly by sight when monitoring the forward's condition.
``I'll watch him closely,'' Rivers said. ``If I don't think he's moving right, then I'll take him out.''
Caution only made sense with the team playing only its 26th game of the season. Injury is the No. 1 nemesis of a defending champion.
``You see it happening around the league,'' Pierce said of key injuries around the league. ``() goes down and Cleveland loses. If I do have to miss games because of an injury, then guys are just going to have to step up.''
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. Following an examination performed by trainer , Big Baby was pronounced fit for action.
Hip-hop icon and Atlanta resident performed at halftime. Considering that, despite last season's playoff success, the Hawks are still having trouble at the gate, any measure is welcomed to bring back the crowd.
``You definitely expect that after what they did they would get a better atmosphere,'' Pierce said. ``They're pretty much in my mind a playoff team.''
Atlanta's promotional department is certainly trying.
Last night's program featured a picture of and Hawks center , stemming from their altercation during Game 4 of the teams' first-round playoff series.
``It was the most important game of my career,'' a proud Pachulia said.
Rivers, as one of the most beloved Hawks of all time, has faith in the Atlanta faithful.
``The fans are coming back,'' Rivers said. ``It's just a slow process. We had that three-year stretch where the place was filled every night, but it's been tough to fill ever since. Even my last year here, when we were still a very good team, I guess they decided we weren't good enough and they stopped coming.''
Rivers has a ticket sales idea that may work, in particular, for his old franchise.
``I think they should adopt my ticket proposal,'' he said. ``You should go by how good the team coming in is for how you price a ticket.''
Former Celtics point guard , now an NBA analyst based out of the home of the Hawks, received a long-lost item yesterday.
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 in his downstairs den until this road trip.
Twiss took a cab over to the Turner Broadcasting building and delivered Payton's prize.
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