Pierce Apologizes for Hissy Fit


After a night to cool off and think about what he'd done, Paul Pierce showed up at Celtics practice yesterday and apologized to his coach and teammates for staging a very public hissy fit with coach Doc Rivers late in Wednesday's game. Rivers accepted the mea culpa, said the two would talk before tonight's game with Toronto, and both men said it was time to move on.

Rivers, upset Pierce was not running the floor in the final five minutes against Milwaukee, did the almost unthinkable these days: He yanked his best player with 4:45 to play in a 1-point game. Pierce lashed out at Rivers on his way to the bench, then sat seething for two minutes. He went back into the game, made a huge 3-pointer, stared down his coach on the way back up the floor, then bolted after the game before reporters could talk to him.

   The Celtics ended up winning, 101-100, despite a truly boneheaded move by Ricky Davis at the end (he fouled Keith Van Horn but got away with it) and thanks to a 16-point, 16-rebound, 3-block gem from Mark Blount. But the Pierce williwaw was all anyone wanted to talk about, which explained the large media contingent at practice yesterday.

Pierce talked first. "I was upset," he said. "I couldn't remember the last time I got snatched out of the game for something I felt was minor. But it's the coach who's making the decisions. I got to deal with it and move on.

"I mean, I was taken out for something I did offensively and that was the first time that has happened to me in my whole career," he continued. "I had a reaction. It was pretty much uncalled for. It's tough, especially when you're trying to develop a team, especially when you've got a lot of young players. They see something like that go on and it's not really setting a good example. That's why I came in [yesterday] morning and apologized to everybody. I've got to do a better job of setting an example, regardless of the situation or the time of the game."

He twice referred to the incident as "nothing big" and added, "At times, it gets frustrating between coaches and players. That's understandable. That's normal. People don't understand that."

At times this season, Pierce has looked profoundly unhappy on the floor, even more than usual. Rivers said yesterday he thought Pierce didn't have the best body language, but quickly added, "It's just who he is. That doesn't bother me." He even likened his body language to that of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. (Danny Ainge said Pierce has always had bad body language.) Rivers said he was not bothered when Pierce had a fit when Rivers took him out early in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 19 game against San Antonio.

"That didn't bother me because he wanted to stay in the game," Rivers said. "This one was a little different. He was very emotional about it. I think he learned something. I probably learned something. As a coach, you can't worry about it. You have to do what you think is the best thing for the team."

Simply, Rivers thought Pierce wasn't hustling. He wants the Celtics to run, run, and run some more and you could hear him exhorting Pierce from the sideline just before he yanked the captain. When Pierce didn't respond, Rivers summoned Jiri Welsch to take his place. Everyone's jaw dropped, but Rivers said he had no alternative, even if he was removing his best player at a critical juncture.

"I wasn't thinking, 'This is a great time to send a message to the team,' " said Rivers, although he conceded it could have been viewed that way. "It was tough. I'm sitting there, looking at the score, knowing if we take Paul off the floor, there's a chance we lose the game. But I thought we had to make that call."

Said Pierce, "I felt I shouldn't have come out of the game at that time. Coach thought so, so he took me out and I reacted to it. My thing is, regardless of what happens, I can't let it affect this team and winning and losing. Thankfully, I was able to get back into the game and help us win. We're going to have to sit down and talk about it."

When they do, the conversation should be short and to the point. Rivers wants it done his way and, in the long run, he feels that his system will help Pierce become an even better player. Pierce, while taking the Everest of high roads yesterday, clearly was still peeved about the whole thing.

"This team is so new and so young," Rivers said. "Everything has to be about the team. It's about winning and we have to be consistent in that. It's very, very important. There are going to be ups and downs. There are guys here who have had it different ways. Good or bad, I'm trying to do it in a way that gives the team the best chance to win."

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