Jason Williams v. Paul Pierce: Who was the Bigger Steal?

February 17, 1999

  SACRAMENTO - The nanoseason is just 12 days old, but last night's epic at Arco Arena gave fans a chance to look at the two highest-scoring rookies in the league: Jason Williams and Paul Pierce.

Fans here feel the same way about Williams that fans in Boston feel about Pierce: They got a steal. The dynamic point guard from Florida has taken hold of the Kings' offense and turned it into one potent scoring machine. Sacramento was second in the league in scoring as of last night, averaging a hefty 99.6 points. The Kings ran up 112 against Utah in an overtime loss Monday night.

"They are a very, very explosive team," coach Rick Pitino said before the game. "The two games I saw them play, the other team thought they had them beat, and they got right back into [ it] with their offense."

Pitino knows a lot about Williams. He had him as a camper at Kentucky and one of his former players, Billy Donovan, coached Williams at Florida. Williams was a discipline problem with the Gators - the classroom always seemed to get in the way - and eventually was booted off the squad. It was never a question of basketball ability or desire.

"Billy used to call me," Pitino said, "and he'd tell me that he was going to discipline Jason by having him get to the gym at 5:30 in the morning for individual workouts. After a while, Billy called me back and said that he was the only one who was getting punished because the kid loved it. He's an incredible gym rat."

Williams was coming off a 19-point performance against the Jazz, in which he knocked down four 3-pointers, including a potential game-winner in the final minute. He is not afraid to launch the ball from anywhere.

"The guy has awesome range," Pitino said.

Williams was averaging 18.2 points a game to Pierce's 17.3 and was first in steals, second in assists, and seventh in shooting percentage among the rookies. His 21 points against the Spurs in the season opener was the most by a Kings rookie since Otis Thorpe had 21 in 1984.

Mercer returns

We've known it was going to happen for days, but Ron Mercer finally returned to action last night after missing the last three games with a sprained right knee. He was wearing a smaller brace than the cumbersome one he wore in the season opener against Toronto. "I'd much rather be wearing a sleeve. But this brace is a lot better than the first one I had," Mercer said. "But I'm still not happy about it. I think I'm going to need it for another three or four weeks." Mercer said his knee feels fine and there is no pain. But doctors want him to wear the brace until they are certain the knee is stable. "It's going to take some time," Mercer said.

Previous life of Riley

It was reunion time for Celtics center Eric Riley. He played at Michigan and thus bumped into former teammate Chris Webber and former coach Steve Fisher, now an assistant with the Kings . . . The last time the Celtics played here, Pitino already had worked out a deal with Toronto for Kenny Anderson. As a result, Dee Brown and Chauncey Billups sat out the game, lest one get injured and botch the deal . . . Jon Barry, the Celtics' No. 1 pick in 1992 who never played a game for the team, has latched on with Sacramento. It's his fourth team in as many years; he played the last three years for the Hawks, Warriors, and Lakers . . . Kings broadcaster Gary Gerould called his 1,000th game last night. Gerould has been the voice of the Kings since they arrived in Sacramento in 1985 . . . The schedule-makers not only gave Boston six days off prior to last night's game, they also had the Kings in the middle of a three-in-three. Sacramento played in Utah Monday night - most of the Boston coaching staff watched the game at a local sports bar - and then left for Seattle after last night. Boston, meanwhile, left for Vancouver after the game for tonight's meeting with the Grizzlies. Vancouver had to play in Anaheim last night against the Clippers . . . Last night was just the second home game for Sacramento, which plays six of its next seven on the road.

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