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It's an unkind cut for Pierce

He's sidelined by a finger infection

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Paul Pierce missed the Celtics' 109-107 loss to the Nets because of an infected left middle finger that stemmed from a paper cut. He returned to Boston yesterday so team physician Brian McKeon could examine the infection. After the examination, Pierce received antibiotics at New England Baptist Hospital. Coach Doc Rivers said it is likely Pierce will return to the hospital today for more antibiotics.

Pierce will not play in the Celtics' eighth and final exhibition game tonight against the Toronto Raptors at the Garden, and it is uncertain when he will practice again.

The early return to Boston was precautionary, though the infection progressed quickly. Pierce did not tell anyone anything was wrong Monday, then experienced discomfort in the finger yesterday morning and alerted trainer Ed Lacerte as players boarded the bus for the shootaround.

Pierce recognized the seriousness of the infection when he could not catch a ball at the shootaround without pain and had difficulty bending his finger.

Pierce suffered a strained hip in the first half against Cleveland Oct. 13, and missed a game against New York Oct. 17 because of the injury.

Team officials want to make sure Pierce is completely healthy when the games count next week. Also, in light of Delonte West recently missing games with a toe infection, the Celtics want to make sure infections do not spread throughout the team.

"[Pierce is] definitely not playing [tonight], but as far as further on, we just don't know," said Rivers. "That's why I'm really happy with what we did. You just don't take any chances after going through the thing with Delonte."

When asked if Pierce could miss practice time next week, and maybe even opening night Nov. 1, Rivers said, "I clearly don't know the answer to that. I guess [he] could. It would be tough to have him sit out this whole week and then we start the season with him having not practiced at all. That would be a big blow to us."

Rivers wanted to use the final two exhibition games to play combinations he planned to use during the regular season. Instead, West started at shooting guard in place of Pierce last night.

"Those plans are all over," said Rivers. "I've always thought the seventh game is the best one [to simulate a regular-season game] because the eighth game no one wants to get hurt.

"You always think the seventh game is the day you roll your [regular] guys out and you play them a ton of minutes and you play them all together. Now, those [plans] are gone."

Without Pierce, the Celtics went with a small lineup much of the time as West stayed on the floor for long stretches, playing his strongest game of the preseason with 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals in 28 minutes. Sebastian Telfair completed the starting backcourt and also looked solid despite rolling his right ankle in the second half. He finished with team-highs in points (21) and assists (9) in 32 minutes. Off the bench, Al Jefferson (13 points, 8 rebounds) provided his best offense of the preseason and carried over his rebounding focus from the contest between the Celtics and Knicks at Mohegan Sun last Saturday. Rajon Rondo (13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals) continued to display a mature all-around game. Tony Allen (15 points) was also one of seven Boston players in double figures. Nets forward Matt Walsh prevented overtime by converting a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining.

Decisions for Ainge

When it comes to final cuts, executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge is leaning one way, but he doesn't plan to make an announcement until Friday. Including Brian Grant, who is not expected to ever be in uniform, the Celtics have 17 players under contract, meaning they must trim two before the season starts. The short list of players who might not make the team includes Michael Olowokandi, Grant, and Luke Jackson. Ainge said he will weigh what players could do for the team and what kind of incentive their contracts could be in a future deal. Because of the latter reason, Ainge said he was "not sure yet" if Grant was an automatic cut. "I know what my thinking is, but I don't know what my decision is," said Ainge.

First impression

The Celtics got their first look at Nets rookie backup point guard Marcus Williams, a player they considered drafting last June. "We liked him a lot," said Rivers of the former UConn standout, who finished with 11 points and 4 assists. "We just thought we needed speed with the way we were going to play. I liked him a lot because I thought he had one of the better workouts with us. He had great feel, unbelievable feel, [Jason ] Kidd-type of feel." Williams missed the first exhibition between the teams with a sprained left wrist ... Back in the area for the first time since being robbed in New York City, Telfair did not have to meet with any police investigators, according to Ainge ... Brian Scalabrine (separated left shoulder) and Theo Ratliff (sore lower back) did not make the trip ... Tonight's broadcast will be on WEEI (850 AM) because of the gubernatorial debate.

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