The Boston Celtics had the last chance. The New Jersey Nets got the first victory.
Kenyon Martin overcame foul problems to score 21 points, and Paul Pierce spoiled a 34-point effort by missing the shot that mattered most for Boston in a 97-93 New Jersey victory in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference semifinal Monday night.
“It was back and forth,” said Jason Kidd, who had 15 points, nine assists and six rebounds for the Nets. “It’s going to be like that the whole series. You’ve got two talented teams who will try to force their will and style on one another. It’s just a matter of who has the ball last.”
Pierce had it with the Nets ahead, 96-93, with slightly less than 10 seconds to play in the rematch of last year’s conference finals. He used a pick at the top of the circle and had an open look when Kidd and Richard Jefferson seemed to back off.
“I thought I got a great look,” said Pierce, who made one of four three-point shots in a game in which the Celtics were nine for 28 from beyond the arc. “It felt good coming out of my hands. It was a little short. What more can you ask for? Down three, you get a good look at the end of the game, and maybe you get it into overtime.”
Martin got the rebound and made a free throw with 5.9 seconds to play. The power forward made four free throws in the final 45 seconds.
“This is a tough loss for us in a hard-fought game,” Coach Jim O’Brien said. “I felt that we were in position to win the basketball game, and we just didn’t get it done down the stretch.”
If the rest of the best-of-seven series lives up to this game, the matchup will rival last year’s series won by the Nets in six games. Game 2 is Wednesday night at New Jersey.
Kerry Kittles had 17 points for the Nets. Eric Williams had 15 points for Boston, and Walter McCarty and Antoine Walker each scored 14.