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Pierce scores 21 in fourth to leave Pacers dismayed

4/20/2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- For the first 3½ quarters, Paul Pierce was
off-target and the Boston Celtics appeared overmatched.

By the end, Pierce had changed everything.

Pierce scored 21 of his 40 points in the final quarter, leading
Boston back from a 13-point deficit in the final 7½ minutes as the
Celtics rallied past the Indiana Pacers 103-100 in Game 1 of their
first-round series.

"I thought we did a good job of putting me in position to
drive,'' said Pierce. "I was able to get to the basket every time.
I knew I could beat my man.''

Pierce's primary defender was Ron Artest before he fouled out
with 40 seconds left. That the Pacers scrambling to contain Pierce,
whose 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds left put the Celtics ahead 99-97.

Pierce also went 21-for-21 from the free throw line, setting an
NBA playoff record for most free throws made without a miss.

Pierce blamed his slow start on illness. Bothered by a sore
throat and fatigue, he missed 15 of 19 shots in the first three
quarters.

"My legs were weak. I didn't have any spring in my shots,''
Pierce said. "I just stuck with it. I said 'At least I can make
some free throws and rebound.'''

Pierce did finish with 11 rebounds, but it was his free-throw
shooting that made up most for his off-night from the floor. His 11
free throws in the fourth were two shy of the most ever made in one
playoff quarter. They were Boston's only free throws in the
quarter.

"He was just putting his head down, going to the basket and
going to the foul line,'' Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. "It
seemed every time he went into the air, he went to the foul line.''

Indiana, just as it did over the course of the regular season,
faded after a fast start. The Pacers made only four field goals in
the fourth, giving the Celtics plenty of chances to rally.

Antoine Walker, who scored 22 points, hit a couple of 3-pointers
early in the quarter to pull Boston within seven. The Pacers pushed
the lead back to 13, 88-75, after five straight points by Ron
Artest.

That's when Pierce took over.

He sank four straight free throws to make it 93-89, then added a
3-pointer from the left wing with 1:31 remaining to make it 95-94.

Jermaine O'Neal's jumper clanged off the front of the rim and
Pierce grabbed the rebound. He was quickly fouled by Artest with
40.8 seconds left, with Artest arguing that a jump ball should have
been called. Pierce had 11 rebounds.

It was Artest's sixth personal foul and Pierce hit the free
throws, giving the Celtics a 96-95 lead. Brad Miller would quickly
regain the lead for Indiana with two free throws.

That set up Pierce's final heroics. He drilled a 3-pointer from
the top of the arc over the outstretched arm of a charging Miller
for a 99-97 lead.

Al Harrington's baseline 3-pointer rimmed out, and Pierce added
two more free throws.

"I was very shocked it came out,'' Harrington said.

Jamaal Tinsley hit a 3-pointer for the Pacers to make it
101-100, but Pierce made his last two free throws. Jonathan Bender
wasn't close with a heave from beyond midcourt at the final buzzer.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night.

"When the game is on the line, we want the ball in each other's
hands,'' Walker said of his relationship with Pierce.

Eric Williams scored 18 points for Celtics and Tony Delk added
12.

Artest led the Pacers with 26 points, O'Neal had 24 and Tinsley
14.

The Pacers can take solace in one fact. They have won Game 1s
each of the past two years but didn't advance.

"As you know, Game 1 doesn't tell the story,'' O'Neal said.

O'Neal said anything less than an NBA Finals appearance would be
a disappointment for Indiana. Instead, the Pacers continued to play
like they did most of the second half when they lost 15 of 20 in
one stretch.

"I think sometimes you get a little too comfortable,'' said
Reggie Miller. "In playoff basketball, that's when you've got to
turn up the intensity. They were never out of it because of their
longball. I don't think we recognized that as well as we should.''

Perhaps it was because Boston gave Indiana little reason to fear
its league-best 3-point shooting early.

The Pacers led by as many as 12 in the first half as Pierce and
Walker could never get untracked. The two went 8-for-24 in the half
and Boston, which led the league in 3-pointers made and attempts,
missed seven of 10.

Boston rediscovered its stroke in the second half, making six of
13.

"We've got to put teams away. That's it. Just put them away,''
Artest said.

The Celtics played the second half without center Tony Battie,
who was ejected early in the second quarter after committing a
flagrant-2 foul on Artest.

Artest was going up for a layup on a three-on-two fast break
when Battie knocked him to the floor. Artest, who led the league in
flagrant fouls, immediately popped back up and was quickly
separated by teammates and an official. Artest pushed a television
camera close to his face.

Artest kicked Battie on the side of his head on the previous
possession while going for a rebound.

Game notes
The season series was split, with each team winning twice
at home. ... The Pacers and Celtics have met twice before in the
playoffs, both in the first round. The Celtics eliminated Indiana
both times, 3-2 in 1991 and 3-0 in 1992. ... Utah's Karl Malone
went 18-for-18 from the line against the Lakers in 1997. ... The
Pacers lost the first game of a first-round series for the first
time since 1996 against Atlanta. ... The Pacers are 1-4 in their
last five home playoff games.