BOSTON (AP) -OK, so maybe the wheelchair was a bit over the top. Paul Pierce really was hurt, though.
Perhaps not much at all.
After two decades apart, the Celtics and Lakers needed all of one NBA finals game to kick their feud back into high gear. All it took was one injury that looked serious when it happened, followed by a comeback so quick that it couldn't possibly have been.
Magic or Bird? Russell or Chamberlain? And now a new debate in this rivalry: Was the Pierce plot a miracle or spectacle?
``All I know is he came back out on the floor and played, and I'm good with that,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Friday.
Pierce, who had to be hoisted in his teammates' arms and taken from the floor in excruciating pain, summoned his strength and returned to Game 1 of the finals despite a sprained right knee and led the Celtics to a 98-88 victory Thursday.
He was transported to a back room in a wheelchair, TV reporters hustling behind the way the paparazzi tails Hollywood A-listers, and even he got a chuckle when he saw a replay of it.
``It was sort of embarrassing, truthfully,'' Pierce said. ``I should have just laid there for five more minutes and then got up. Hopefully it won't happen again. If I get carried off the next time, there's no way I'm going to come back.''
The Lakers didn't see the humor.
Pierce's dramatic return - to some - drew immediate comparisons to Willis Reed, who dragged himself onto the Madison Square Garden court for Game 7 of the 1970 finals against the Lakers despite a severe knee injury.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, a witness to both events, wasn't so impressed.
``If I'm not mistaken,'' a sarcastic Jackson said, ``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. Paul got carried off and was back on his feet in a minute.''
Jackson was Reed's New York teammate. And as far as Jackson is concerned, Pierce is no Willis Reed.
``I don't know if the angels visited him in that timeout period that he had or not, but he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor, Jackson said. ``I don't know what was going on there. Was (well-known faith healer) Oral Roberts back there in their locker room?''
The NBA's well-spaced schedule turned the talk before Game 2 on Sunday to miracle cures, conspiracy theories and MRIs. It also brought out some skepticism about the severity of Pierce's injury, which initially looked as if it might trim Boston's Big Three by a third.
Jackson's doubts about Pierce's injury - he was out of the game for less than two minutes - were relayed to Rivers, who dismissed them with a smile.
``Oh, I don't care,'' Rivers said. ``Aren't we skeptics anyway now about everything? So what the heck; let it begin. Let it begin. Lee Harvey Oswald did it.''
Boston forward Kevin Garnett wasn't so amused by Jackson's take on the injury to his good friend, the Celtics' captain.
``It's not up to them to approve or disapprove or to judge,'' he said. ``The man got carried off the court, that's pretty significant. 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 wasn'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 the other side, you just make up stuff.''
Pierce, who scored 22 points and made consecutive 3-pointers in the third quarter from the same spot to give Boston the lead for good, reported his knee was stiff and swollen and that he would spend the next two days getting treatment.
If not for the day off, Pierce said he would not have been able to play on Friday,
``I can walk on it, I can bend it, but there's a little sharp pain on the inside of my knee,'' he said.
Pierce said there was a ``great chance'' he'll be able to play on Sunday when the Celtics attempt to take a 2-0 lead before the best-of-seven series shifts to Los Angeles. He has no plans to have further testing done on the knee, which he injured when he was bumped hard from behind by teammate Kendrick Perkins, who later was forced out with a sprained left ankle.
Rivers often deflects questions about player's injuries by saying, ``Doc is just a nickname.'' But he made a point of saying that Pierce had no structural damage.
The Celtics insist Pierce does not need an MRI, and the 10-year veteran said that even if he got one, it wouldn't matter.
``At this point, 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,'' he said. ``Either I can play or I can't, regardless of what the MRI says.''
When he crumpled to the floor, Pierce said he immediately thought the worst: that his first visit to the NBA finals was over. He has been fortunate and never had a knee problem, but as the pain darted through his leg, the 30-year-old became frightened.
``Man, I was scared,'' he said. ``I see it all the time in football, baseball, basketball, guys hurt their knees - it's not good. And it still could be worse than I'm really putting off.''
While Pierce nurses his sore knee, Kobe Bryant's shooting touch could use a little tender loving care.
The Lakers' superstar shot just 9-of-26 from the field in Game 1, his third straight ``off'' game against the Celtics, who have held him to 33 percent (24-of-72) shooting this season. Bryant missed fadeaways, short jumpers and drives that usually go down.
After the game, Mr. MVP lamented misfiring on ``bunnies,'' but failed to mention that most of his attempts came with two, and sometimes three Celtics rushing at him or waving a hand in his face.
Bryant didn't make excuses. Now, he just needs to make shots.
``I've just got to put the ball in the damn hole,'' he said. ``That sucker didn't want to stay down.''
He meant his shot, not Pierce.

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