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  • Game info: 6:00 pm EDT Thu Apr 24, 2003

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; tied 1-1.

The Indiana Pacers already lost home-court advantage, but may have found a way to stop Paul Pierce.

The Pacers look to shut down Pierce again and grab the lead in their playoff series when they face the Boston Celtics in Game 3.

Pierce scored 40 points in the opener, including 21 in the fourth quarter, as Boston won 103-100 to seize home-court advantage from the third-seeded Pacers.

Indiana defended Pierce much better in Game 2, limiting him to 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting in an 89-77 victory.

The key was staying physical with Pierce for the entire game. The Pacers had contained him for three quarters in the opener before his big final period, but didn’t let up at all on Monday night.

“Our goal was to make it tough for him to score, and Saturday’s game we only played him tough for 40 minutes,” Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. “But tonight we played him for 48 minutes.”

Indiana can play Pierce with Ron Artest, who was runner-up to Detroit’s Ben Wallace for NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors. But Pierce, who averaged 25.9 points during the regular season, is one of the league’s best offensive players and can be too tough 1-on-1 even for a defender of Artest’s caliber.

However, the Pacers are one of the league’s deepest and most physical teams, and they can slow Pierce by playing tough help defense when he does beat Artest.

“He’s a good defender, but I’ve got to give more credit to their team defense as a whole,” Pierce said. “I was able to get around him most of the time, but it was the help that they sent at me that caused us problems. They play great team defense.”

Pierce has made just 13-of-42 shots (31 percent) in the series. The Celtics are shooting only 39.7 percent as a team.

With the series now moving to their home court, the Celtics are hoping they can avoid the slow starts they had in the games at Indianapolis.

Boston trailed by as much as 16 points in Game 1, then fell behind by 18 in the first quarter of Game 2.

The slow starts have prevented coach Jim O’Brien from giving much rest to Pierce or Antoine Walker, Boston’s other All-Star. Pierce played all 48 minutes Monday and Walker played 47. Pierce admitted afterward he felt tired.

“First of all, we can’t really get down as much as we did in the first quarter and expect to come back all the time,” Pierce said. “Falling behind so many points takes a lot out of you when you make a comeback effort.”

The Celtics also need to find some way to slow Pacers All-Star Jermaine O’Neal, who is averaging 23.5 points and 14.5 rebounds in the series while shooting 51.6 percent. He had 23 points and 20 rebounds in Game 2.

O’Neal was one of the few Pacers to play well in Boston this season, averaging 26.5 points and 11 boards. Indiana lost both games, averaging only 81 points on 37.2 percent shooting. The Pacers made only 6-of-32 3-point attempts.

“It’s a long series. It’s a chess match,” O’Neal said. “Whichever team plays best will win. It’s going to be physical and it’s going to be a long one. We need to go to Boston and get Game 3.”

Game 4 is Sunday at the FleetCenter.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pacers - 48-34, 3rd seed. Celtics - 44-38, 6th seed.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pacers - F Artest, F O’Neal, C Brad Miller, G Reggie Miller, G Jamaal Tinsley. Celtics - F Walker, F Eric Williams, C Tony Battie, G Pierce, G Tony Delk.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 23.5 ppg and 14.5 rpg; Tinsley, 8.0 apg. Celtics - Pierce, 27.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg and 6.0 apg.

SEASON SERIES: 2-2. Each team won twice at home. Indiana averaged 105.5 points on 44.6 percent shooting in its two victories, but was limited to 81.0 points and 37.2 shooting in the two games at Boston. Walker averaged 22.3 points in the series.

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