Mercer says he's ready; Pitino's not sure

February 5, 1999

Mercer says he's ready; Pitino's not sure

   WALTHAM - Ron Mercer practiced yesterday and pronounced himself ready to play tonight. On most days, that is not what you would call urgent news. But when you consider that the Celtics guard was limping Monday - initially fearing that he had done something terrible to his medial collateral ligament - it is clear how significant his statement is.

So, Mercer was asked, what happened between Monday and yesterday? Did he make a trip to Lourdes and sprinkle his right knee with blessed water? Mercer said he did have his friends praying for him and considers his quick healing a blessing. But what put him over was the arrival of a knee brace.

"I thought it would be heavy, but it's very light," he said, pointing to the black brace on his knee. "I wore it all day [ Wednesday] to get used to it. I wore it around the house just to see how it felt."

Mercer said he could play tonight in the brace ("I want to play, definitely"). But that's not his decision. Celtics coach Rick Pitino said he will wait until game time (8 p.m.) before deciding if the second-year guard will play against the Toronto Raptors in the season opener at the FleetCenter. Pitino joked that he would withhold his announcement as long as possible to torture the media. It was then mentioned to Pitino that Raptors coach Butch Carter is probably the person who wants the information most this morning.

"I can guarantee you that [ Carter] will plan on him playing," Pitino said.

It didn't count

The Celtics dominated the Raptors in the exhibition season, but Pitino said the gaudy scores didn't impress him. "You got [ Charles] Oakley, you got [ Kevin] Willis, you got Dee Brown, you got [ Doug] Christie. You're playing against veteran ballplayers who understand what the exhibition season is all about," Pitino said. And what exactly is the exhibition season all about? "It means nothing," Pitino said . . . Antoine Walker is impressed with Marlon Garnett's shooting ability. "He's one of the few guys who can go head to head with Dana [ Barros] as far as shooting goes," Walker said. Garnett, a 6-foot-2-inch guard, is a rookie from Santa Clara. He played last year in Turkey, which means he didn't get a chance to watch "The Rick Pitino Show." Yesterday he was part of it. As the cameras rolled, Pitino explained why Garnett - the coach's model for the show - shoots so well . . . Andrew DeClercq has a sore back but is expected to play tonight . . . Pitino said the Celtics won't be pressing at their usual pace this season. "I don't feel that with all these consecutive games, you can press with your first unit," he said. "The guys who are going to play 30-plus minutes can't play all these consecutive nights and press. They'll have nothing left." . . . While talking about some of his season-opening memories, Kenny Anderson started reminiscing about his favorite coaches. The man who tops the list? Chuck Daly. Anderson was asked why. "He gave me the ball," the guard replied. "He said, 'Here's the ball and here are the plays.' " Pitino may soon top Anderson's list. The coach has said he would rather handle defense and leave the flow of the offense to his point guard.

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