EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., May 19 (Ticker) -- The New Jersey Nets didn't have to guard Paul Pierce to have him miss shots. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics didn't guard anybody.

Pierce struggled at the foul line and the Celtics struggled on defense in a 104-97 loss in the Eastern Conference finals opener to the Nets, who used a balanced attack led by Jason Kidd.

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Before the series, Pierce boasted that "no one can guard me." That was especially true of the Nets, who allowed Pierce to average 37 points in four regular-season meetings.

The All-Star swingman appeared headed for another big game, scoring 14 points in the first quarter. But he encountered foul trouble and never had the explosion he had in previous playoff games.

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Kenyon Martin nearly missed joining seven Nets in double figures, before fouling out trying to keep Paul Pierce in check.
Noren Trotman
NBAE/Getty Images
"Pierce is going to get 20-something points every night. I thought our guys did a good job of containing him pretty much the whole game," Nets coach Byron Scott said. "He didnt have the type of performance that he had in the previous four games. The one thing you want to really take away is that he gets 20 points in one quarter."

"I have to make a concentrated effort to control my fouls," Pierce said. "Thats part of the game. I hurt my team by getting in foul trouble."

Pierce really hurt his team at the foul line, where he made just 7-of-13 shots. In the fourth quarter, he was just 5-of-11, stalling a late rally by the Celtics. He finished with 27 points, his lowest total against New Jersey this season.

"Its part of the game," said Pierce, an 85 percent foul shooter. "I thought I felt good coming out, I thought I had my rhythm, but its all part of the game."

"Its not a concern because we shot more than 84 percent in the playoffs," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "Certainly our guys want to make free throws and we practice enough."

Boston dug itself a hole with poor defense that allowed New Jersey to score 81 points through three quarters. In four straight victories over Detroit in the conference semifinals, the Celtics did not allow more than 81 points.

"Their offense was certainly better than what we had to offer in the defensive end," O'Brien said. "They played a very, very good basketball game."

Kidd recorded his second career playoff triple-double -- and the first in team history -- with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He was one of seven Nets to score in double figures and quarterbacked an attack that utilized New Jersey's advantage in transition and inside play.

"As long as we win, I dont care too much about the stats," Kidd said. "Im just happy that we came out with the `W.' Stats are secondary; its all about winning ballgames."

The Nets shot 49 percent (38-of-77) from the field. They scored an astounding 48 points in the paint and 19 fast-break points.

"Were usually such a good team in transition (defense). Tonight we were just awful," Celtics guard Kenny Anderson said.

"We did not stop the transition," Boston forward Eric Williams added. "They got a lot of easy points. They got a lot of layups."

Starters Todd MacCulloch, Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles scored 14 points each. Reserves Aaron Williams, Richard Jefferson and Lucious Harris each added 10 for New Jersey.

"I think our post play -- Todd and Aaron -- we tried to play inside and out," Kidd said. "We tried to be aggressive, tried to take the ball at the basket. We did get a lot of backdoor cuts and thats part of our offense."

"Thats the kind of team we have," Harris added. "Its going to be a collective effort each time."

Antoine Walker also scored 27 points for the Celtics, who shot 41 percent (34-of-83) and again resorted to the outside shot. They launched 29 3-pointers, making 10, and scored just 20 points in the paint.

Despite Pierce's big first quarter, the Nets held a 31-27 lead. Pierce and Walker combined for 30 points in the first half, but the Celtics repeatedly were beaten down the floor and trailed, 57-49, at halftime.

"They are as good as anyone getting from one end to the other," O'Brien said. "Their speed and quickness was an issue all game for us. You have to do a better job if youre going deep in this series. I thought they were very crisp."

Kidd scored 11 points in the third quarter. Late in the period, he made two free throws and fed Jefferson for an alley-oop dunk before Williams sank two from the line for an 81-66 lead.

A basket by Williams gave New Jersey its largest lead at 87-70 with 9:58 to play. Boston answered with seven straight points but still trailed, 99-88, with just over two minutes left.

The Celtics had a chance to get closer, but Pierce split a pair from the line. Walker drilled a 3-pointer and Pierce drew a foul with 1:21 remaining. Again, he only split the pair, and when Walker missed a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, Boston was done.

"We know that they are a dangerous team," Kidd said. "Theyve come back and beaten us here when weve been up by 20. We knew the game wasnt over."

Game 2 is Tuesday at New Jersey