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Pierce scores 18 of his 21 in second half

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Paul Pierce put aside his
frustrations to help the Boston Celtics pull out an important game.

Pierce overcame early foul trouble to score 18 of his 21 points
in the second half and lead the Celtics to an 84-80 victory Monday
night over the depleted New Jersey Nets.

"I was in foul trouble and never got into a rhythm in the first
half," Pierce said. "I just kept my focus. I was a little
frustrated with the calls being made. After that, I settled down
and let the game come to me."

Pierce took the game into his hands in the fourth quarter.

With the Nets leading 67-65, Pierce put the Celtics ahead to
stay with eight straight points including a pair of 3s.

The win helped Boston strengthen its grip on a playoff spot. The
Celtics are 1½ games ahead of Cleveland for eighth spot in the
Eastern Conference after the Cavaliers lost to San Antonio and a
half-game behind the New York Knicks in seventh. New York beat
Portland.

"The team is really coming together at an important time of the
year," Pierce said. "We're making our run for the playoffs.

Ricky Davis added 17, and Mark Blount had 16 points and 15
rebounds for the Celtics, who won their third straight.

Richard Jefferson led the Nets with 24 points and Lucious Harris
added 18. Rodney Rogers had 16 points and 15 rebounds for New
Jersey, which dropped its third in a row.

The Nets played their sixth game without injured All-Stars
Kenyon Martin and Jason Kidd and fell to 1-5 without them.

The Nets struggled to hit a basket down the stretch and they
sabotaged themselves with eight turnovers in the final quarter.

Yet they still had a chance.

Jefferson completed a three-point play with 19 seconds remaining
to cut the Boston lead to 81-78.

The Nets fouled Blount, who missed both free throws. Jefferson
pulled down the rebound but Harris turned the ball over to Walter
McCarty and New Jersey never recovered.

"Seventy-five percent of the games in the NBA are decided in
the last three minutes," Jefferson said. "Right now, we are
playing so bad at the end that it's not even funny."

The Celtics led 43-42 at the half as neither team could take
charge. The biggest lead was six points by Boston and there were 12
lead changes and six ties. Blount paced Boston with 12 points and
10 rebounds. Davis added 11.

Pierce was in early foul trouble. He picked up two in the first
quarter and wound up with three at the half. The fouls limited him
to 12 minutes and only three points.

Jefferson had 12 points for New Jersey at the half.

The game remained tight, and the teams were tied at 57 after
three quarters. Pierce, who picked up a fourth foul five seconds
into the half, came alive for the Celtics with eight points in the
period.

The Nets had foul trouble as well as Jefferson also picked up
his fourth midway through the quarter.<
^Notes@: Martin could be close to returning, perhaps as soon as this
week, according to Nets coach Lawrence Frank. Martin, sidelined
with left knee tendinitis, went through a shootaround Monday.
"He's working extremely hard at it," said Frank. "There is
definitely some relief but it's not yet where he can play." ...
The news is not as encouraging on Kidd and the bone bruise in his
left knee. "We have to try and find the best possible remedy and
be proactive as possible yet there is nothing new to say," said
Frank. ... Kidd did not shed any more light on a possible return.
"I'm just rehabbing, that's all," said Kidd. "I hope to play
(again this season) unless something changes."

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