INDIANAPOLIS, April 17 (Ticker) -- The Indiana Pacers shut down Paul Pierce and kept their cool, two things that didn't happen in last year's first-round series with the Boston Celtics.

Ron Artest put the clamps on Pierce and the Pacers played through some rough stuff for an easy 104-88 victory over the Celtics in the opener of their Eastern Conference first-round series.

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Last year, the Pacers were upset in the first round by the Celtics. They were torched by Pierce and lost their cool, bickering among themselves.

Jermaine O'Neal got the Pacers off to a fast start, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the first quarter.
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This season, Indiana won a league-high 61 games and claimed to be a different team under new coach Rick Carlisle. The Pacers proved that as they made quick work of the Celtics.

"We're pleased to get the win," Carlisle said. "We didn't get off to a good start defensively, but it got better in the second through fourth quarters. The priority now is to continue with what we accomplished today."

While scoring 24 points, Artest limited Pierce to 20 on 5-of-18 shooting. Pierce also committed eight turnovers.

"We tried to do some things to keep him off Paul, and early on, we did a good job of executing our plan," Celtics interim coach John Carroll said. "(Artest is) so strong and has good hands. You can't dribble against him. As the game went on, he just wore Paul down."

"First game doesn't make a series," said Artest, downplaying his defensive effort. "We have to stay focused and continue to play our game to win this."

Artest was one of the Pacers who lost focus last year, getting into a shoving match with team executive Mel Daniels after a loss. This time, the Celtics tried to get Jermaine O'Neal off his game.

With the Pacers in the midst of a game-breaking run in the second quarter, Carroll inserted rookie bruiser Brandon Hunter, who baited O'Neal into a technical foul.

"They had just put in a young, strong player and right away he was throwing an MVP candidate to the floor," Carlisle said. "I don't like that style of basketball. I reacted, the team reacted and the fans reacted."

"We knew he was sent in to shake it up. This is the NBA," said O'Neal, who had 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. "Each team has a person that's supposed to do that. I just have to do a better job keeping myself focused. If I get thrown out, our loss is greater than theirs."

A devastating 30-8 run over the last 9 1/2 minutes of the second quarter opened a 65-43 lead and pretty much sealed the win for the Pacers. Artest and O'Neal combined for 33 points in the first half.

Indiana also got a big boost from its bench. Al Harrington had his first postseason double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, adding five steals. Guard Fred Jones added nine points on 4-of-5 shooting.

"Al played with great force," Carlisle said. "He was in the middle of a lot of good things -- loose balls, offensive rebounds; he gave us a big boost. Fred Jones was aggressive (and) very impressive for his first playoff game. The second unit has to play well for us and they did today."

Conversely, the Celtics received nothing meaningful from their bench. Guard Chucky Atkins scored 11 of his 19 points in the first quarter, but when he and Pierce sat down, the offense unraveled.

"I think putting Paul on the bench triggered it," Carroll said.

Harrington scored eight points in the decisive spurt, scoring on a follow shot, tip-in, layup and a dunk. O'Neal and Artest had six points apiece and Reggie Miller and Jones added 3-pointers.

Indiana led by as many as 29 points in the third quarter and took a 24-point cushion into the fourth period, when Boston made the final score a bit more respectable.

The Pacers host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Tuesday. The Celtics have lost five straight playoff games.

"In my experience, when you win the first game by a comfortable margin, the second game tends to be a war," Carlisle said.