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Boston 94, New Jersey 90
Posted: Saturday May 25, 2002 10:40 PM
New Jersey Nets
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Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (Ticker) -- Between the third and fourth quarters, Antoine Walker yelled at Paul Pierce and the rest of his Boston Celtics teammates. Pretty soon, all of the FleetCenter was yelling.

Sparked by Walker's words, the Celtics pulled off the greatest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history, stunning the New Jersey Nets, 94-90, in Game Three of the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics grabbed a 2-1 series lead and added another chapter to their storied playoff history with the first great postseason game at the FleetCenter. They trailed by 26 points in the second half and 74-53 entering the final period before rallying as the Nets cowered, then collapsed.

"This is crazy! This is nuts! I've never been involved in a game like this," Celtics guard Kenny Anderson said. "This is amazing, coming back from the deficit we came back from today, especially on the NBA level."

"We got really soft in the fourth," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "We didn't run our offense the way we ran it in the first three quarters. It's very dissappointing to lose a game like that."

As the Celtics huddled before the fourth quarter, Walker lit into his teammates. He screamed at all of them, including Pierce, a fellow All-Star who was having his third straight sub-par game in the series.

"I can't repeat what I said," Walker said. "I think I just told him that he needs to be more aggressive, needs to attack the basket and show them that if we lose the game and go to Game Four, that he's got game and he's got courage to continue to go."

"(He said) no matter what happens in this fourth quarter, win or lose, we're just going to go down fighting," Pierce said. "We're not going to get embarrassed tonight."

Celtics coach Jim O'Brien also had a bit to say.

"I said to them, 'I'm not going to sit here and tell you guys that you can't win this basketball game. I'm not going to tell you that,'" he said.

Whatever was said, it worked. Boston began the quarter with an 11-0 burst as Pierce scored seven points. But the Celtics still trailed, 86-74, when New Jersey's Aaron Williams made a three-point play with 5:46 to go.

Boston kept coming and the sellout crowd of 18,624 -- which had been booing the home team in the third quarter -- cheered louder and louder. New Jersey, which had been in total control, appeared rattled and unnerved. It went the final 4:07 without a basket and the last 2:29 without scoring.

In the fourth quarter, the Celtics scored 41 points and held the Nets to 16. Pierce scored 19 of his 28 points in the period, including eight in a closing 10-0 surge. Walker had 23 points and 12 rebounds, adding a key blocked shot in the final seconds.

"I felt like Paul was bailing them out," Walker said. "I felt like he wasn't playing the game he's capable of playing. He stepped up huge in the fourth quarter like he's done all season long and showed why he's an All-Star."

"Antoine was so positive in timeouts," O'Brien said. "(He was) saying to Paul, 'You just take over this damn game. You just start carrying us. Attack, attack, attack.'" It was a crushing loss for the Nets, who looked more like last season's terrible team than the one that won 52 games and the Atlantic Division this season.

In NBA playoff history, 171 teams had taken leads of more than 18 points into the last quarter. None had lost -- until Saturday.

"I've never been a part of anything like this in my life," Walker said. "To see my guys fight the way we fought, to be down 21, they could have easily packed it in. But we fought 'til the end."

Game Four is Monday at Boston.

"Monday is a must game for us," Nets guard Kerry Kittles said.

The Celtics still trailed, 88-78, with 4:07 left after a jumper by Kittles, who scored 19 points but faltered down the stretch. Rodney Rogers made four free throws and Walker hit two, cutting the deficit to 88-84 with 2:41 remaining.

Williams, who scored 11 of his 18 points in the final period, made two from the line, but the Nets did not score again. Pierce made a free throw, layup and two more free throws to make it a one-point game with 1:07 to play.

"We never felt that the game didn't get out of control," Nets guard Jason Kidd said. "We always felt we were going to get a basket at some point, get a defensive stop, and we didn't."

Kittles missed a 3-pointer and Pierce drew a foul with 46 seconds left. His two free throws gave Boston its first lead since 1-0.

On the next possession, Kittles threw an awful pass that Anderson scooped up and took in for a layup and a 93-90 lead with 29 seconds left. Walker blocked a potential tying 3-pointer by Keith Van Horn and Pierce sealed it with a free throw.

"The last quarter was a blur to me," O'Brien said.

In the fourth quarter, the Nets made 4-of-22 shots, including 0-of-8 3-pointers. They committed six turnovers and 14 fouls. The Celtics made 11-of-19 shots and 18-of-21 free throws. They had zero turnovers and six fouls.

"We've got to play better, we've got to play smarter, we've got to take care of the ball, we've got to get better shots and we've got to make shots," Kittles said.

The largest deficit overcome in the final period of a playoff game was 18 by Phoenix against Houston in an overtime win on May 11, 1994. The Nets also blew a 25-point lead here in the second game of the season but recovered to win.

"It's hard to describe what we just witnessed," O'Brien said. "It was the greatest comeback that I've ever been a part of."

"The one thing that I told our guys before the fourth quarter even started was we've been here before. This team has come back," Scott said. "So don't relax."

Anderson scored 15 points and Rogers 10 for the Celtics. Kidd had 12 points and 11 assists for the Nets, who looked unbeatable through three quarters.

Boston missed 15 of its first 16 shots until Walker tipped in a missed fast-break layup by Pierce. It trailed 28-13 after one period, collecting no assists.

Walker scored seven points in the first five minutes of the second quarter as the Celtics pulled within six points. His two free throws had it at 43-34 with 2:29 left before Kittles and Lucious Harris combined for all the points in an 11-0 run that gave the Nets a 20-point halftime lead.

Kittles had two jumpers around a free throw to help push the advantage to 61-36 early in the third quarter. Two baskets by an otherwise quiet Van Horn gave New Jersey its largest lead at 65-39 with 8:31 to go and brought out the boobirds.

Pierce's frustration was evident as he argued with Kidd late in the period. Both players received technical fouls.

 


 
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