Paul Pierce's dramatic return was compelling theater, one of those Willis Reed-type moments.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who had front-row seats at both events, wasn't so impressed.

"If I'm not mistaken," a sarcastic Jackson, a teammate of Reed's on the New York Knicks, said yesterday, "I think Willis Reed missed a whole half and three quarters almost of a game and literally had to have a shot, a horse shot, three or four of them in his thigh to come back out and play. Paul got carried off and was back on his feet in a minute."

Pierce, who was hoisted in his teammates' arms and taken from the floor in excruciating pain, returned to Game 1 of the NBA Finals despite a sprained right knee and led the Boston Celtics to a 98-88 win over Los Angeles on Thursday.

Pierce's gutty comeback - to some - drew immediate comparisons to a more famous one made by Reed, the Knicks center who dragged himself onto Madison Square Garden's court for Game 7 of the 1970 final against the Lakers despite a severe knee injury.

Jackson was there that night 38 years ago. And as far as he's concerned, Pierce is no Willis Reed.

"I don't know if the angels visited him in that timeout period that he had or not, but he didn't even limp when he came back out on the floor," Jackson said. "I don't know what was going on there. Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room?"

Jackson's doubts about Pierce's injury - he was out of the game for less than 2 minutes - were relayed to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who dismissed them with a smile.

"Oh, I don't care," Rivers said. "Aren't we skeptics anyway now about everything? So what the heck; let it begin. Let it begin. Lee Harvey Oswald did it."

Pierce, who scored 22 points and made consecutive three-pointers in the third quarter to give Boston the lead for good, reported his knee was stiff and swollen, and that he would spend the next 2 days getting treatment.

"I can walk on it, I can bend it, but there's a little sharp pain on the inside of my knee," he said, adding that there was a "great chance" he'll be able to play tomorrow night in Game 2.

Noteworthy

* Doug Collins will not be returning for a second coaching stint with the Chicago Bulls.

Collins and team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf mutually agreed during a phone conversation yesterday that the Bulls' coaching search would continue without Collins.

"I just knew over the last few days that Jerry was really struggling over whether or not to do this, and I didn't want Jerry to have those struggles," Collins told the Chicago Tribune. "I love him. And I didn't want him feeling that kind of angst. This is absolutely mutual."

* O.J. Mayo has new representation, LeBron James' agent, Leon Rose.

* U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said she will rule Monday on motions in Seattle's lawsuit that seeks to prevent the SuperSonics from relocating to Oklahoma City. *