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Sick, not tired

Depleted Nets well enough to continue dominance of Celtics

Any snapshot taken of the fourth quarter would inevitably include Paul Pierce.

He was everywhere, attempting nearly half the Celtics' shots in the final period. He also committed four of the Celtics' final six turnovers. The most telling image came with 1 minute 46 seconds remaining. Pierce fumbled the ball and struggled to regain control near midcourt. He went to the floor in pursuit of the ball and wound up sitting on the FleetCenter parquet as Aaron Williams stole it. A quick pass to Kerry Kittles resulted in a fast-break dunk for the Nets.

It was not the first time in the fourth that a Pierce turnover led to 2 points for New Jersey. It would not be the last time, either. Pierce tried to do it all in the fourth quarter as the Celtics attempted to continue their comeback from a 15-point, third-quarter deficit. But the Boston captain could not twist and turn his way around even a depleted New Jersey squad.

Following the game, Pierce willingly shouldered much of the blame for the Celtics' 94-87 loss, just as he had attempted to carry much of the scoring load down the stretch.

"My decision-making is not where it should be," said Pierce (27 points, 10 rebounds). "I've got to do a better job of that."

The rest of the Celtics came to Pierce's defense. Mark Blount, in particular, mentioned how the four other players on the floor had to make it easier for Pierce to find open shots. Blount saw Pierce's fourth-quarter performance as a byproduct of a team still figuring out how to play off each other on offense. Last night, the crowd of 17,347 was reminded that the Celtics are still a work in progress, that Jim O'Brien is still figuring out the best way to fit the pieces together.

"We don't want him twisting and stuff like that [for shots]," said Blount. "We just want him to catch and shoot or dribble in the lane and pull up for the jump shot or find somebody else." If the Celtics needed an illustration of how less can sometimes be more, they need look no further than the Nets. New Jersey arrived at the FleetCenter without three of its top eight players (Kenyon Martin, Lucious Harris, and Rodney Rogers) for the second of back-to-back games. The odds were seemingly in the Celtics' favor for their first win over the Nets since Nov. 20, 2002. Instead, Boston (2-3) stretched its losing streak to three games.

In the third quarter, Pierce appeared to have all the help he needed in the form of Kedrick Brown. The Celtics erased a 15-point deficit with a 17-2 run midway through the third that included major contributions from Brown, who scored 10 of his career-high 18 points in the period. The run tied the game at 64 with 2:59 left in the third. And the contest remained close almost until the end.

An 11-footer from Pierce produced the ninth and final tie of the second half with 3:29 remaining. Then, Jason Kidd (19 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists) scored on a driving layup that put New Jersey ahead for good. A pair of turnovers by Pierce that led to fast-break dunks by Kittles (13 points) followed. The Nets outscored the Celtics, 21-8, on the break and recorded 19 points off turnovers. And with 1:45 to go, the Celtics faced a 6-point deficit. Boston closed within 4 points (90-86), but came no closer.

"We did a good job of realizing that the game was right there," said New Jersey coach Byron Scott. "The one thing we pride ourselves on is the defensive end, and we did a heck of a job getting in the passing lanes and putting some pressure on those guys a little bit and coming up with some big steals. Kerry got some big steals. That's what we go for."

The Celtics also pride themselves on defense. They held the Nets to 42 percent from the field, while shooting 44 percent. Boston outrebounded New Jersey, 43-41, but the most troubling number was the 16 offensive rebounds given up by the home team. The Nets scored 20 second-chance points. There were also 18 Celtic turnovers. In the fourth quarter, the only positive numbers came from rookie Marcus Banks, who played the entire period. Banks actually outscored Pierce in the fourth, recording 7 of his 11 points in the quarter. For his lone fourth-quarter assist, Pierce found Banks for a 21-footer.

"I think Paul feels a great deal of responsibility for our basketball team," said O'Brien. "And he has to find his way. I think he felt he had to carry the load, which he does, but in a lot of different ways he's got to carry it."

in today's globe
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atlantic div. standings
  W L Pct. GB
Boston 3 3 .500 --
Washington 3 3 .500 --
Philadelphia 3 4 .429 0.5
New Jersey 3 4 .429 0.5
New York 2 4 .333 1.0
Orlando 1 6 .143 2.5
Miami 0 6 .000 3.0
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