NEW YORK — Celtics captain Paul Pierce turned his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday night’s 108-89 loss to the New York Knicks and coach Doc Rivers said Pierce will “probably’’ sit out Monday night’s game at the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Despite turning his ankle early, Pierce scored 24 points on 6-of-16 shooting, grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds, and added 5 assists in 32 minutes at Madison Square Garden.
He had his ankle taped shortly after leaving the game for good in the fourth quarter.
“It’s just a little score,’’ Pierce said. “It shouldn’t be no problem.’’
Rivers said he wasn’t sure what exactly happened to Pierce’s ankle, but that either way, “We’re going to give him a rest. We’re going to sit him games, for sure, very soon.’’
Pierce said he and Rivers would talk about sitting out Monday. Pierce has missed one game this season, a 100-74 loss at league-worst Charlotte on March 18.
Center Kevin Garnett traveled with the team to New York, but sat out his fifth consecutive game, resting a sore left ankle. Garnett did not participate in the team’s morning shootaround, but Rivers said that Garnett is “feeling a lot better.’’
That Garnett is showing signs of improvement is encouraging, considering that the Celtics wanted to shut him down for two weeks, if not longer.
Garnett was expected to travel with the Celtics to Minnesota.
Starting Celtics guard Courtney Lee played 28 minutes after playing sparingly against Atlanta in his return from missing three games with a sprained left ankle.
“When I’m out there, I’m definitely frustrated by how the game’s going and the last thing that I’m thinking about is my ankle,’’ Lee said after scoring 10 points off the bench in 28 minutes. “I was trying to find ways to get back into the game, but it feels good. It’s fine.’’
Said Rivers of Lee, “I thought he was much better. I thought he played with better speed and force.
“I really didn’t want to put him back in [late], because that’s how you get injured, the last four minutes of rat basketball. Unfortunately, Avery [Bradley] fouled out, so we had to put him in. Just told him to stay out of the way.’’
As one of three NBA coaches on the league’s competition committee, Rivers, who is joined by Dallas’s Rick Carlisle and Memphis’s Lionel Hollins, is asked to vote on potential rule changes and other competition-related matters.
One issue Rivers said he expects to come up this offseason is the idea of coaches sitting star players in games, which Miami did Sunday night against San Antonio.
The Heat sat LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Mario Chalmers against the Spurs, indicating that each had injuries such as a hamstring strain and a sprained ankle.
The move caused a stir because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had sent forward Tim Duncan, guard Manu Ginobili, and guard Tony Parker home before playing the Heat Nov. 19.
The NBA fined the Spurs $250,000 for sitting those players out.
“I’ve got a feeling it will come up, probably loudly,’’ Rivers said. “But I don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it as a coach.
“It’s a tough one, honestly. From the fans’ standpoint, they pay to see the players play and I get that. From the league’s standpoint, they want to protect that. From a coaching standpoint, you want to do what’s best for your team. It’s a tough one.’’
However, the Celtics may have an advantage in this area because their star players are pushing 35 and above, so no one really questions why they sit: they’re just old.
“I think ‘old’ is an actual injury,’’ Rivers joked. “You have the ‘hamstring injury’ and you have the ‘old injury.’ ’’
Is Miami on the Celtics’ playoff radar? Rivers maintained that he doesn’t think about the Heat much, but he said, “I think Danny [Ainge] does, a little bit.’’
Of course, Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations, was involved in a heated back-and-forth with Heat president Pat Riley
last week, one in which Riley issued a statement saying that Ainge should “shut the [expletive] up and manage his own team.’’
A reporter told Rivers that Riley doesn’t make too many public statements like that.
“[Ainge] drew him out,’’ Rivers said, laughing. “I’m very proud of that one. He threw a smoke bomb.’’
Rivers added of Riley, “He doesn’t come out much, but Danny will bring that out in you if you’ve been around Danny long enough.’’
Knicks center Tyson Chandler missed his 10th straight game with a neck injury.
“He hasn’t said when he’s going to return, so we’re going to take it a day at a time and just wait on him,’’ Knicks coach Mike Woodson said before the game.