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Celtics swamped in New Jersey

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The longest losing streak of the Jason Kidd Era came to an end yesterday. And New Jersey had Boston to thank for finally bringing some good news to the reclaimed swampland Kidd and his teammates currently call home. After a week filled with distractions and defeats, the Nets dismantled the Celtics, 110-91, and snapped a five-game skid.

Back at Continental Airlines Arena for the first time since the franchise was sold to a New York developer (pending league approval) with plans to relocate the organization to Brooklyn, the Nets also succeeded in keeping a crowd of 17,533 focused on basketball with one entertaining transition basket after another.

There was nothing focused or entertaining about the Celtics' play. Boston failed to reverse the ball and wasted time watching Paul Pierce try to generate offense. In part, that explains why the Celtics shot 36 percent from the floor compared with 50 percent for the fast-breaking, high-flying Nets. Pierce generally was forced to take jump shots because he drew a crowd when trying to drive.

"There's not a guy on our team that played decently," said coach Jim O'Brien.

With a chance to claim a share of the Atlantic Division lead, climb back to .500, and extend a two-game winning streak, the Celtics (22-24) played an unexpectedly and inexplicably poor game. They were flat, uninspired. They were outscored in the paint, 50-34, and outrebounded, 55-32. They fell behind by 17 points in the second quarter, 21 in the third, and 23 in the fourth. Including the playoffs, the Nets have won 12 of their last 13 games against the Celtics.

"It was like we went into the game expecting to lose," said Pierce (13 points on 3-of-15 shooting). "Our body language wasn't there. You could kind of just see it on everybody's face. It was definitely surprising. We had a chance to play for first place and the sense of urgency wasn't there. I guess it is fair to say they do have our number.

"Right now, they're a better team than us."

It took 2 minutes 45 seconds for Boston to score its first field goal. The inauspicious start turned into a first half filled with offensive struggles for the Celtics as they shot 33 percent. A sampling of Boston's missed shots included a 22-foot airball from Marcus Banks, consecutive missed layups by Chris Mihm and Brandon Hunter, an airball from the arc by Ricky Davis, and a rather large collection of off-target midrange jumpers from Mark Blount, Walter McCarty, Jiri Welsch, and Pierce. As a result, the Nets took a 56-39 lead at halftime.

Despite an embarrassingly poor start on offense, the Celtics briefly held a lead in the first quarter, courtesy of a 3-pointer by McCarty with five minutes left. It was the lone quasi high point in a long afternoon. Boston had an advantage for only 1:34, even though New Jersey committed 29 turnovers and did not click on offense until the second quarter.

After the Celtics went ahead, 10-7, in the first, the Nets staged a 13-2 run. New Jersey entered the second with a 20-14 lead and for the most part kept extending its advantage. Pierce did find Mike James for consecutive 3-pointers late in the second, bringing Boston within 9 (45-36). But that was as close as the Celtics would come. With an 8-0 run, the Nets went out to a 17-point lead.

"We missed a lot of easy buckets," said James. "Sometimes the ball stuck a little more than usual. We just have to continue to move the ball, and even if our offense breaks down, that doesn't mean our defense has to break down."

But apparently there was no halftime speech capable of infusing Boston with enough energy or urgency to make the game competitive. The Celtics never threatened the Nets in the third or fourth quarters as they continued to shoot poorly and allow easy baskets. New Jersey placed six players in double figures, including all five starters. Richard Jefferson led the way with 25 points, while Kenyon Martin finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Kidd also posted a double double with 10 points and 11 assists.

During the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, a Boston lineup of Kendrick Perkins, Banks, Hunter, McCarty, and Welsch signaled the unofficial end of the contest.

"I don't know if it was because it was an early game [1 p.m. start] or what," said Davis, who scored a team-high 26 points and was the only Boston player to provide any energy. "All our guys came out flat. We just couldn't get it going. If we did, we could have definitely got ourselves back into the game. We gave them life from the start and that hurt us. You can't let any ball club get confidence that is fighting for first place, whether they've been losing or winning."

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