PHILADELPHIA -- Wearing the right color (green), but not the right outfit (suit and tie), Paul Pierce did not play last night against the 76ers, though the Celtics captain said the decision to skip the game because of wear and tear on his body did not signal the end of his season.
With 10 games remaining, team officials consider Pierce day to day.
With the prospect of a showdown against LeBron James, Pierce could be back in the lineup tomorrow night against the Cavaliers. But it is more likely he will return to action later next week.
Before Pierce plays again, he must receive medical clearance from team physician Brian McKeon. Pierce met with McKeon following the Celtics' win over the Magic Wednesday night, and McKeon advised Pierce it would be best to rest for at least a few days. Pierce acknowledged the level of exertion required in the double-overtime victory made him more sore than normal and necessitated some downtime.
Pierce logged 53 minutes (one shy of his career high Feb. 15, 2006, against Cleveland) and finished the game exhausted. Although Pierce anticipated a slow recovery, he traveled here with the team. But he did not participate in shootaround yesterday morning, making it clear he would not play.
Pierce does not plan on taking extra anti-inflammatories or receiving extra massages to aid recovery. He will stay off his feet as much as possible.
"It's just good for me and my body [to take some time to rest], especially after the last two weeks when I've been playing kind of banged up and playing so many minutes the last game," Pierce said before the Celtics' 88-82 loss last night. "It's just a good time for me to rest my body. I needed it . . . I'm going to try to take it on a game-to-game basis and see how my body feels. It's worn down a little bit."
A swollen left elbow, intermittent left foot soreness because of a stress reaction suffered in mid-December, and bumps and bruises from recent games have made Pierce more conscious of the toll on his body by playing as much as he does. His left elbow and left knee (hit from behind against Dallas March 23) have produced the most pain in recent days.
Pierce knows the pain in his elbow will not subside until he can rest over the summer but insists it will not require a second offseason surgery.
Pierce has also been competing while less than fully fit. Ever since he missed seven weeks with the stress reaction, Pierce has been far from in top condition. He struggles with fatigue and a lack of lift every game regardless of minutes.
Pierce knows he will not return to top form this season, especially when he cannot fully participate in practices to save himself for games. As a player who wants to be on the floor, Pierce prefers competing beside his younger teammates. But he faces an unenviable Catch-22: continue building team chemistry during the final weeks of this season or think long term and save himself for next season and beyond.
"You want to be out there, but I think this is a good time for them also [to prove what they can do]," said Pierce of a group that went 2-22 in his absence. "There are going to be a lot of changes or maybe a few changes after this year. This is an opportunity for some of these guys to sort out who's going to be here for next year and who's not.
"It's definitely been mentally challenging knowing that you're hurt, knowing that you haven't been hurt like this your whole career, and seeing the team struggle. A lot of players will break down and get frustrated. For me to say I haven't been frustrated would be a lie. Who's not frustrated by losing? I've just got to think of the positive things that can come out of it, the guys growing up, guys getting minutes that are going to help this franchise in the long run.
"You always want to be out there with your teammates and going to war with them, [especially] knowing I'm the captain and they look to me for leadership. It's always hard [to sit out]. It was when I sat out 24 games [with the stress reaction].
"Right now, what's important is getting healthy. Hopefully, I can finish out the season on a good note."
Coach Doc Rivers and the players recognize Pierce continues to do everything he can to compete.
"We're doing the right thing," said Rivers. "I think he'll still play this year. I really do. If he wants to play and he can play, he should play . . . It was as much Dr. McKeon's decision as it was Paul's [to sit out last night]. It's not just Paul's decision to play and not play. I've made it clear to everyone that if he's going to come back, he should be able to come back and play. If he's going to come in and play one game and miss games, that's silly. That's not going to do anything for him and his future."
And if it is not good for Pierce's future, then it is not good for the future of the franchise.
Shira Springer can be reached at email@example.com.