Pierce Practices, Will Play His Way Back into Shape

WALTHAM - When asked how he felt by reporters after Saturday's practice at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, Paul Pierce remarked with a smile, "I feel like I look."

While he was joking around and basically fishing for compliments, it was the most upbeat Pierce has been in public (around basketball, anyway) since going down with a stress reaction on December 20. So it was encouraging that the Captain was in good spirits after running though his first full practice with the team on Saturday, a day after coming back to a standing ovation with 4:12 to play in the first quarter against the Nets Friday night.

His return didn't quite unfold as he planned it, at least at first. The Celtics lost, 92-78, Pierce missed eight consecutive shots to start the game, he didn't have much lift and he wasn't really playing at NBA speed. But he finished much stronger, scoring seven of his nine points in the last six minutes of the game and he finally seemed to be finding his rhythm.

Not bad for a guy who's been on the shelf for seven weeks.

"I know it's all going to come back in time," Pierce said. "I'm going to continue to practice and continue to play in games. I've been out so long I kind of feel like it's the first week of training camp."

And he even threw in a Paul Pierce moment at the end of the first quarter. The Celtics came up with an offensive rebound and found Pierce at the top of the key. Pierce drew the ball back, sized up his defender and made a move toward the basket. It ended up in a turnover, but you could see the excitement in his body -- and hear it in the TD Banknorth Garden crowd -- as he prepared to make his move as the clock wound down.

"I've been anxious. Maybe my adrenaline was a little bit too high," said Pierce, who said he was 'basketball sore' after playing last night. "But it was good for me to be out there with the guys and just feel like a part of the team again."

Pierce finished Saturday's practice wearing a green jersey along with Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, Brian Scalabrine and Al Jefferson, and according to Doc Rivers he'll likely start against the Timberwovles on Sunday.

"Today was the first full practice that he's actually been through. He made it through it and it looked like his wind was OK," said Rivers.

Rivers says he really hasn't changed much with Pierce back in the mix, but he did acknowledge that teammates were certainly looking to get him the ball right away when he came into the game Friday.

"It's like the savior has arrived, but you've still got to play. That's where today's practice helps," Rivers said. "Paul wants to move the ball, because he understands the more he moves it, the easier it is for him to score because you can't load up on him Everybody's shots get easier. When Paul's a passer, [defenders] don't come off of him very often."

Odds and Ends

An NBA representative stopped by practice to give Gerald Green a rundown of the new rules for the Slam Dunk contest. Green, who first dunked when he was 15, has been studying tapes of prior contests, but says he has something that the NBA has never seen before. That said, word out of New York is that Nate Robinson, a guy who's never been shy about talking, also claims to have a new dunk as well.

Also, Wally Szczerbiak spent Saturday afternoon on the treadmill, then practiced his outside shooting before telling reporters that he's not going on the trip to Minnesota.

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