Celtics do it with defense

Posted: Wednesday, May 22, 2002

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Boston Celtics did it with defense on a night when Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker weren't all that special on offense.

Stopping the Nets from running and remembering how to rebound, the Celtics made a defensive stand while taking control in the third quarter and defeated New Jersey 93-86 on Tuesday night to even the Eastern Conference finals at one game apiece.

Walker scored 26 points but wore out his right elbow doing so, taking 32 shots and making 11. Pierce added 18 points but also had major issues with his accuracy, going only 3-for-20 from the field and 11-for-20 from the line.

''When you play defense at the level we did tonight, you can afford to go 14-for-52,'' Walker said.

The rest of the Celtics combined to shoot 18-for-41, with Kenny Anderson, Eric Williams and Tony Delk each reaching double figures. But despite their difficulty getting the ball to go in, the Celtics made life on offense even tougher for the Nets.

A mind-numbing total of 138 shots were missed in this game, with Boston shooting 34 percent from the field and New Jersey making only 33 percent. In addition, the Celtics missed 13 free throws and the Nets missed eight.

''It wasn't a shootout. More like we were building a house. Both teams,'' Nets guard Jason Kidd said.

The key stretch took up most of the third as the Nets went 16 consecutive possessions without making a field goal.

Boston had an 18-1 run to turn a one-point lead into an 18-point edge, and New Jersey didn't get closer than five points until the final 20 seconds. Pierce then made his final four free throws as Boston hung on despite going the final 3:40 without a basket.

Game 3 will not be played until Saturday, giving both teams plenty of time to consider how different Game 2 was from Game 1. Much like the Nets were two nights earlier, the Celtics were the aggressors in this game when it came to running, hitting the boards and playing with passion.

''They picked the pressure up a lot. We didn't attack. We were on our heels the whole game,'' Kenyon Martin said. ''They just played harder than we did.''

Pierce (14), Tony Battie (12) and Walker (11) all reached double figures in rebounds, and the Celtics got back quickly enough on defense to limit the Nets to just 14 fastbreak points.

Kidd had 23 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, and Martin scored 22. The rest of the Nets didn't add much though, as Keith Van Horn shot just 2-for-12, Kerry Kittles was 2-for-11 and Todd MacCulloch missed all four of his shots.

New Jersey went just 4-for-23 from 3-point range, including 0-for-7 by Kittles. The Nets were outrebounded 60-50.

''Guys had the ball and it seemed like they were nervous,'' Martin said. ''We both shot horribly, but they rebounded the ball and we didn't.''

Kidd got his triple-double with 1:25 left by feeding Van Horn for a layup after Van Horn knocked the ball away from Pierce in the backcourt, making it 88-83. After Pierce missed a jumper, the Nets missed their next three shots -- Aaron Williams and Kidd from the inside, Kittles from the outside.

Battie missed two foul shots with 29 seconds left, but Van Horn missed a long jumper at the other end, and Pierce made two from the line with 23.9 left to restore a seven-point lead.

The Celtics were hanging onto a one-point lead early in the third when they began the defining defensive stand. Walker and Pierce hit back-to-back 3-pointers to quickly give Boston a nine-point cushion.

Walker threw an alley-oop pass to Battie coming out of a timeout, making it 61-48, and Kidd had a horrible shot, an offensive foul and a bad pass on the Nets' next three possessions.

The lead reached 16 when Walker hit a turnaround baseline shot to make it 68-52 before Kidd ended the Nets' drought with a 3-pointer. Boston led 75-61 entering the fourth.

The difference in the Celtics' intensity was evident from the start. Pierce took the ball hard to the basket on the first possession, and Walker was jumping up and down almost maniacally as he defended Martin on New Jersey's first possession.

''Anything we get offensively is a bonus,'' Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. ''If we play defense the way we played tonight and against Detroit the last four games, we think it's difficult to score against us.''

Walker shot just 2-for-11 in the first and Pierce was 1-for-5, but the rest of the Celtics were 8-for-13 as Boston opened a 27-17 lead.

''They just want it more than we do,'' Nets coach Byron Scott yelled at his team in the huddle, complaining that the Celtics were outhustling them to every loose ball and rebound. Boston already had eight offensive rebounds by the time New Jersey had seven total rebounds.

Martin banked in a shot early in the third to cut New Jersey's deficit to 48-47, but that would be their last field goal for more than eight minutes.

Notes: Celtics reserve Walter McCarty saw his first action of the series and dunked just six seconds after checking in. ... Pierce, an 81 percent foul shooter during the regular season, also struggled from the line in Game 1 when he was 7-for-13. ... The Nets drew a sellout crowd, although there was a vocal contingent of Celtics fans. ... Kidd had six turnovers. ... Battie had five blocked shots. ... New Jersey had its six-game home winning streak snapped.

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