For a Game that Doesn't Count, C's Look Pretty Good

January 27, 1999

For a Game that Doesn't Count, C's Look Pretty Good

   TORONTO - SkyDome's gates opened at 5:30 last evening, and soon after, the destruction began. First, two doors and a turnstile were shattered. After that, the Celtics went to work on the Raptors, 106-88, in their belated exhibition opener. By the end of the night, the memory of the NBA lockout had taken a beating, too.

It may have been easy to forget about Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Kenny Anderson, and Paul Pierce during the 204-day lockout. That was when a mention of their names was usually followed by talk of labor unions and salary caps. Last night they brought their labor to a familiar place: the court. It took about five minutes for them to remind you why you might have missed them.

If you are a Celtics fan, let's hope you can handle their performance better than the people here. Before seeing Mercer dribble behind his back and finger-roll in one motion, several Toronto fans were so eager to take their free seats that they destroyed a turnstile and broke down two doors. No one was seriously hurt and there were no arrests. All other damage was done by the Celtics.

"Not bad for nine guys, huh?" Walker said when it was over.

The Celtics had nine players available, but it didn't matter. This game was never close. That's because there were 14 points scored in the first five minutes, and 13 of them belonged to the Celtics. And of those 13, 11 belonged to Mercer.

You may have heard that Mercer switched agents over the summer, from David Falk to an agency owned by a rapper named Master P (also known as Percy Miller). You may not have heard that hanging out with the Master all summer made Mercer more vocal and assertive.

"Being around Percy Miller has made me more relaxed and outgoing because that's how he is," Mercer said after his 25-point, 9-rebound, 40-minute night. "We'll be in the airport walking together and a whole bunch of people, like 10 different people, will go up to him and ask for autograph. Instead of just signing, he'll go up to them and give them a hug, too."

Master P has had such an impact on Mercer that even Coach P, Rick Pitino, mentioned his name last night. The coach believes Miller's work with Mercer will help the player's game. "I'm glad he wasn't writing lyrics over the summer," Pitino joked. "He was playing."

That was apparent early because the 6-foot-7-inch guard was brilliant for most of the evening, shooting from every spot on the court. With ease. After the game, Walker, Mercer's neighbor in the locker room, paid him the highest compliment: He listened to his music. While Mercer was explaining his 17-point first half, Walker slipped on a pair of Mercer's headphones and listened to the stuff that obviously has inspired his friend. "And this isn't even my type of music," Walker said.

Since Mercer is the humble type, he would never take all the credit for the win. He had help everywhere. There was plenty to like. Among them: - Pierce. In short, you will like the rookie from Kansas. He passed well, rebounded well (7), and shot well (14 points). He probably believes he defended well (4 steals), too. But he was called for two quick fouls in the first quarter. He
will soon discover that NBA law dictates that any questionable foul almost always goes to a rookie. "I warned him about that before the game," Mercer said. "That's just the way it happens."

- Walker.

Not much appears to be different with the captain, which is good news for Pitino. He had 19 points and 6 rebounds. And he still is not shy. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, Walker headed toward the locker room and saw a scout

from another team. The two are friendly, so they chatted a bit before Walker said, "We'll be ready for y'all" during the regular season.

- Anderson.

In this case, numbers tell you everything. The point guard played 15 minutes in the first half. He had nine assists in those minutes.

- Dwayne Schintzius.

"Well, I felt like I was going to die out there, but I'll be OK," the 7-3 center said. He finished with 10 rebounds. "The ball was falling my way tonight," he shrugged.

Pitino was able to smile at the end of the night. "This game helped us establish our offensive philosophy," he said. He raved about Dana Barros, Popeye Jones, Tony Battie . . . everyone.

The Celtics took 204 days off and still came back looking good. Everything went well for them. They even survived the Toronto fans' attempts to, literally, bring down the house.

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