Boston — Mired in a franchise-record 17-game losing streak, the Boston Celtics finally got some good news Friday night.
Captain Paul Pierce returned to the court for the Celtics' game against the New Jersey Nets after missing 24 games because of a stress reaction in his left foot and infected left elbow.
Pierce, who leads Boston with 26.6 points per game, was supposed to return earlier this week, but an elbow infection delayed his return. After spending two nights in the hospital following a minor surgical procedure to relieve the swelling, Pierce was released Thursday.
"I'm feeling pretty good," Pierce said. "My foot is feeling pretty good, which is the main concern. I got the elbow stuff out the way. It's a little sore, but that's the least of my worries."
Pierce came off the bench with 4:12 remaining in the first quarter and assisted on Al Jefferson's layup a minute later.
Pierce scored nine points in the Celtics' 92-78 loss.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he hoped to limit Pierce's playing time to 15-20 minutes per game to ease him back into the rotation. With the Celtics struggling to close out games, Rivers said he would try to keep Pierce fresh for the fourth quarter.
"How well he'll play and all that, I don't think anybody knows," Rivers said. "He's had one practice. I don't know who's sat out a month, had one practice and done a lot. But the fact that he wants to play is great; I think it's great leadership for all our young guys to see."
Boston was 10-14 before Pierce's injury, but has gone 2-22 since he last played Dec. 20. The Celtics' last win came Jan. 5 in Memphis.
"It's been the most frustrating time of my career," Pierce said. "It's like watching your little brother out there in a fight and you're helpless because you can't help him."
Even with Pierce's return, the Celtics remained short-handed. Forward Wally Szczerbiak missed the game after spraining his left ankle in Boston's loss to Miami on Wednesday.