Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Tuesday that the team does not have a definitive diagnosis of Paul Pierce's injured left foot, but one thing seems certain: Pierce will miss some games at a time when the Celtics can ill afford to be without their captain and leading scorer.
Pierce suffered the foot injury Monday when he got tangled with Washington's Caron Butler while diving for a loose ball in the first quarter of a win over the Wizards. He underwent X-rays Tuesday, but Ainge told Comcast SportsNet, the TV home of the Celtics, that team doctors did not have enough information to make an accurate diagnosis.
"We basically don't know the extent of the injury," Ainge told CSN's Gary Tanguay. "The doctors don't have all the information to make the decision. We expect to make an announcement tomorrow."
TNT commentator and former ESPN NBA writer David Aldridge reported that Pierce has a broken foot, according to a league source, but also indicated the team would wait for further tests to confirm that diagnosis and provide a timetable for his absence.
If Pierce, voted an All-Star reserve last week by the league's coaches, is sidelined, how do the Celtics move forward? The severity of the injury is likely to dictate their path.
If it's a short-term injury, the Celtics might be content -- yet again -- to try to weather the storm with the roster they have. Pierce missed five games earlier this season battling a right knee infection that required a pair of surgical procedures, and Boston went 2-3 during the stretch (though both Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo also missed time during the stretch).
The Celtics could lean on sixth-year swingman Tony Allen, who, after battling an ankle injury to start the season, has come on strong with the extra playing time that's come his way with his teammates' injuries (including logging five starts while Pierce was out). Allen is averaging better than 10 points per game over Boston's last three contests, providing a much-needed spark off the bench, in addition to his typically solid defense.
Boston will also get a boost with the return of Marquis Daniels later this month. The versatile seventh-year player has been sidelined since Dec. 4 after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb. Daniels has targeted a return around the All-Star Game, potentially as early as Boston's matchup with New Orleans on Feb. 10, the Celtics' final game before the break.
But no one on the roster can truly replace Pierce and his leadership and production on the court. Boston's 32-year-old captain is averaging 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game this season. In January, his numbers spiked to 20.8 points per game, including a 35-point outburst against the Hawks on Jan. 29.
Ainge and Celtics coach Doc Rivers have expressed a fondness for the team as currently constructed, even as rumors swirl about potential trades involving Ray Allen. Now, more than ever, the Celtics will need Allen to shake his shooting woes and take on an increased offensive presence.
If the injury will sideline Pierce long term, Boston might have to consider a move to add a scoring presence. In that case, the Celtics would have to hope Pierce is healthy by the beginning of April, as to begin working his way back into game shape before the playoffs (as well as redeveloping chemistry with his teammates, something the Celtics have struggled with mightily this season given the spate of injuries).
On Monday, Pierce returned to the court in the second quarter, but was limited to 28 minutes for the game and did not play in the fourth period. He finished with 12 points and eight rebounds. He said after the game that he would get X-rays, but didn't think the injury was too severe.
“It rolled over when Caron landed on it," Pierce said of his left foot after the game. "I think I have a mild foot sprain. I'll get some X-rays [Tuesday], but I think it's not going to be too bad. I would have known by now. I think I'll be all right."
Rivers said he simply played it safe with Pierce late in the game.
"I just didn't want to take a chance," Rivers said Monday after the game. "I shouldn't have played him in the second half. I think I messed that up. He wanted to go out and he wasn't playing bad, but I just didn't think he was moving well enough. Why take a chance?"
It's just the latest bad news for the Celtics, who have endured substantial injuries to Garnett (missed 10 games with a hyperextened right knee), Daniels (sidelined since Dec. 4 after left thumb surgery), Glen Davis (missed 27 games with a fractured right thumb) and Rasheed Wallace (missed three games with a sore left foot). On Tuesday, second-year guard J.R. Giddens underwent left knee surgery and is expected to be sidelined for a month.