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CELTICS NOTEBOOK

Elbow forces Pierce to sit

Paul Pierce, shown here on the bench in last week's loss to the Knicks, collected just his 17th career DNP on Sunday.
Paul Pierce, shown here on the bench in last week's loss to the Knicks, collected just his 17th career DNP on Sunday. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Doc Rivers mentioned before last night's game that he wouldn't hesitate to sit Paul Pierce in these final, meaningless games.

''If he's hurting, I won't play him," Rivers said, noting Pierce was bothered by a sore left elbow and a sore ankle. The coach did say that he would take into consideration Pierce's desire to play all 82 games, but, ultimately, it would be health uber alles.

Shortly thereafter, Pierce told Rivers that his left elbow, which has been bothering him much of the year, was sore. According to Rivers, the conversation then went something like this.

Rivers: ''Don't you want to play in all 82 games?"

Pierce: ''Yeah, but it's bothering me."

Rivers: ''Well, then, my thought would be to sit you down."

At that point, Rivers said, Pierce didn't mount much of a protest. And that's when Rivers made the decision. Pierce missed his first game of the season last night, a 95-93 Nets victory. It was the first game he had missed in two seasons, having gone wire-to-wire last season and hoping to do the same this season. The official culprit: bursitis.

Pierce, who missed the 17th game of his eight-year career, was not available to speak to reporters. Rivers said he would list Pierce as ''very doubtful" for tonight's game vs. the Cavaliers.

With Pierce out, that means Raef LaFrentz is the only player left who has a chance to play in all 82 games.

Pierce wasn't the only regular starter missing, just the most surprising, as his was a last-minute scratch. Delonte West (sore left calf) did not even make the trip here, missing his third straight game and ninth overall. Rivers said he was leaning toward shutting West down for the remainder of the season.

Net gains
With neither team having much to gain from a win -- the Nets are playoff-bound, the Celtics are not -- there was the predictable, scattered, helter-skelter play in the Nets' victory. Brian Scalabrine went for 14 points against his former teammates. Gerald Green had 19 points for the Celtics, who dropped their fourth straight. Kendrick Perkins added 16 and Ryan Gomes 15. The Nets led for most of the game, trailing only briefly in the first quarter. A 10-0 run in the first gave New Jersey control, and the Nets nursed the lead the rest of the way. The lead went to as many as 14 in the second and was reduced to single digits for most of the second half, including 1 point (94-93) on a Green runner with five seconds left. Jacque Vaughn then made one free throw, but the Celtics, who were out of timeouts, could not get a shot off before time expired. The loss dropped the Celtics to 32-48, ensuring their worst season since they went 15-67 in 1996-97 . . . After scoring 13 points, New Jersey's Vince Carter needs only 15 points in the next two games to establish a franchise scoring record for a season. Carter is chasing Bernard King, who in 1977-78 scored 1,909 points for a 24.2-points-per-game average over 79 games. Carter played his 78th game last night (he has missed only two this season) and has 1,895 points for an average of 24.3. ''The great thing about Vince," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said, ''is he never brought it up. But it's a significant individual accomplishment." Kendall Gill is in third place with 1,789 points in 1996-97, when he played all 82 games and had a 21.8 average.

Celtics-Nets box score, E8

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