The day after, Paul Pierce had a noticeable limp, his right knee still sore, stiff, swollen, and smarting from the sprain he suffered in the third quarter of the Celtics' 98-88 triumph over the Lakers Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Miraculously (except, perhaps, to the man known as Dr. Phil in the Lakers' huddle), Pierce overcame his injury that led to him being carried off the court, and returned to a thunderous ovation to score half of his 22 points.
"I've never had any knee problems in my career, so it was real scary once I felt a sharp pain in it," Pierce said yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden, where the team held a film session and shot free throws. "There's a little pain in it right now, so I'm just going to keep it wrapped, iced. [There was] still a little bit of swelling this morning when we looked at it. [I'll] just continue to get treatments and go from there."
Pierce said he took "four Advils" for the inflammation and would eschew an MRI.
"Regardless of [what] the MRI [shows] at this point," he said, "I mean, what is it really going to tell us? The extent of the injury? But at this point with two weeks left, six games to go, we can figure this out after the season."
Although Pierce's health remained at issue for Game 2 tomorrow night, with the Celtics' captain claiming, "I think there's a great chance I'll play, just knowing myself, knowing my threshold for pain," it didn't prevent him from being subjected to a healthy dose of skepticism from Phil Jackson, Lakers coach and cynic in chief.
While the Garden crowd feared the worst when Pierce went to the floor writhing in pain and clutching his leg, Pierce said afterward his mind raced as he was examined by the team's medical staff in the locker room.
"I was like, 'Man, it can't be over like this,' " Pierce said Thursday night at the postgame news conference, at which he showed up with an ice bag taped to his left knee and his right knee wrapped in an athletic bandage. "You know, I think God just sent this angel down and said, 'Hey you're going to be all right. You need to get back out there. Show 'em what you've got.' "
Yesterday, Jackson scoffed at the way Pierce was carried off the court, then transported to the locker room in a wheelchair, only to return to the game 1 minute 45 seconds later under his own power.
"I don't know if the angels visited him at halftime or in that timeout period he had or not," Jackson said. "But he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor. I don't know what was going on there.
"Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room?"
Divine intervention or not, Pierce wound up knocking down a pair of huge 3-pointers to help the Celtics to a 75-71 lead en route to a 1-0 series lead.
The emotional jolt Pierce's return gave the Celtics invited comparisons to when Willis Reed hobbled through the tunnel at Madison Square Garden for the second half of Game 7 of the 1970 Finals against the Lakers.
But Jackson, a former Knick teammate of Reed's, begged to differ.
"Well, if I'm not mistaken, I think Willis Reed missed a whole half and three quarters almost of a game and literally had to have a shot - a horse shot - three or four of them in his thigh to come back out and play," Jackson said. "Paul got carried off and was back on his feet in a minute."
Apprised of Jackson's skepticism, Celtics coach Doc Rivers feigned surprise.
"Phil showed skepticism?" he said.
"Whatever it takes," Rivers added, drawing laughter from the assembled media. "Whatever it takes. All I know is he came back out on the floor and played, and I'm good with that."
Asked what he thought about the skepticism directed at Pierce, Rivers tried to laugh it off.
"Oh, I don't care," he said. "Aren't we all skeptics anyway now about everything? So what the heck, let it begin. Let it begin." Then, offering his own theory, Rivers blurted out, "Lee Harvey Oswald did it!"
Kevin Garnett, however, fired back at Jackson for even questioning the seriousness of Pierce's injury.
"It's not up to them to approve or disapprove or to judge," Garnett said. "The man got carried off the court. I mean, that's pretty significant. That's what it is. I don't know what they're doing over there. I'm focused on what we're doing over here.
"But he looked pretty hurt, came in, and finished the game off. I know it don't look easy and he made it probably look a little easy, but at the same time they weren't over there seeing him grimacing, the massaging, and on the bike and ice and that stuff.
"When you don't know what's going on on the other side, you just make up stuff."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.