Celtics' Pierce, Walker getting plenty of help

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2002

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics returned to practice Thursday with a warning for the New Jersey Nets: We're much more than Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.

Those two scored 49.8 percent of Boston's points during the regular season and 52.1 percent so far in the run to the Eastern Conference finals.

But the Nets must be ready for the defense of Eric Williams, the shooting of Rodney Rogers and the inside play of rarely used center Mark Blount.

They all helped put the Celtics in the conference finals for the first time since 1988.

''It's the way we've done it,'' Walker said as Boston resumed workouts after a day off, ''being very gutsy on the defensive end and getting contributions from nine or 10 guys on a night-in and night-out basis.''

Matchups will dictate which backups get the most playing time in the best-of-seven series that starts Sunday at New Jersey. The Nets' 52-30 record was the best in the East, three games ahead of Boston.

In the opening round against Philadelphia, Celtics forward Walter McCarty emerged from a season of bench-warming to play a major role.

Against a smaller Detroit team in the next round, he rarely played while guard Tony Delk made key contributions.

''We're able to create mismatches,'' Erick Strickland said. ''We have a very versatile team.''

The Nets are physically stronger than the 76ers and Pistons, indicating McCarty, Blount and Strickland, a stocky guard, might play more.

''They're going to be very important,'' Boston coach Jim O'Brien said.

''The group that has been put together here is made with depth in mind. If you're ever in a situation where you have an injury or foul trouble, you have people that can step up.''

That happened Tuesday night when Boston beat Detroit 90-81 in Game 5 to clinch the series.

Walker and Pierce sat out long stretches of the fourth quarter, each saddled with five fouls, and the Celtics kept rolling. Pierce finished with 18 points, while Kenny Anderson had 17, Walker 16, Rogers 14 and Tony Battie, primarily a rebounder and defender, 10.

The Celtics need a deep bench to handle Jason Kidd, the point guard who runs the Nets' dangerous transition game.

Anderson is expected to guard him most of the time, although Strickland and Delk should get chances.

''You pay a price if you go away from Kenny Anderson at the point. He's our quarterback. He's the guy that leads us,'' O'Brien said. ''We will try to keep him fresh because I don't think anybody will necessarily do a job on Kidd unless they're fresh.''

He stressed to his players the need to stop New Jersey's offense by hustling back on defense.

''When they gain possession, we need five guys ducking their heads and sprinting to the paint to make sure we're loaded up on Kidd and don't allow him to get the basketball to the rim,'' he said.

The Nets must contain Pierce, who averaged 37 points against them as Boston won three of the four regular-season meetings. He had a career-high 48 points in one of them.

''I don't think they have anybody that can really defend me,'' Pierce said. ''They're really going to concentrate on what I've done to them, but they've got to understand we have 11 other guys that can get the job done.''

O'Brien said the Nets also have good depth.

''They distribute the basketball really well,'' he said. ''Any one of six or seven guys can be high scorer on their team.''

That's unlikely on the Celtics, where Walker or Pierce led the team in scoring in 79 of the 82 regular-season games.

The other players contribute primarily on defense, where Williams was brilliant in the last two games against Detroit. He was scoreless in both but had seven steals and 12 rebounds.

''We would not be here if we did not have that depth,'' O'Brien said. ''It is clearly our depth that's one of the keys to our basketball team's success.''

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