Friday, May 31, 2002

Nets, Celtics heating it up


        The intensity level has risen steadily as the Eastern Conference finals have progressed. It could be at the boiling point for Friday's Game 6 in Boston as the New Jersey Nets try to eliminate the Celtics.

        “The intensity level is right on schedule,” says Nets coach Byron Scott, whose team leads the best-of-seven series 3-2. “When you get to this level, the intensity gets a little higher each game.”

        The intensity level hasn't reached the bad-blood stage, which Scott describes as “three or four fights like in the '80s.” But the series has had its moments.

        Boston's Paul Pierce and New Jersey's Jason Kidd were assessed double technical fouls in Game 3 when they got in each other's face. Kidd took exception to Pierce setting a pick on him with his elbows raised to neck level.

        In Game 6, Nets forward Kenyon Martin took a couple of menacing steps toward Walter McCarty with both of his fists clenched after McCarty and Rodney Rogers committed a hard foul against him.

        “They're a very competitive team and we're a competitive team,” McCarty says. “They want to win, and we want to win. We're giving each other our best shot.”

        The teams began taking verbal shots at each other almost as soon as the matchup was set, with the Celtics doing most of the talking. Pierce, who averaged 37 points in four regular-season games against the Nets, said the day after New Jersey advanced that he didn't think the Nets had anyone who could guard him. After Scott said Martin would guard Pierce, Antoine Walker said he didn't think Martin was tough enough to handle the assignment.

        Fans also have gotten into the act. In Game 5, Nets fans held up a sign reading, “Will someone please stab Paul Pierce,” referring to an incident in 2000 in which Pierce was stabbed a dozen times in the back, neck and chest at a Boston nightclub.

        Celtics fans got involved in the war of words during Game 4 when they directed chants of “Wife-beater” at Kidd with Kidd's wife, Joumana, and 3-year-old son, T.J., in the stands. They were referring to an incident in January 2001 in which Kidd, playing for Phoenix at the time, was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge of striking his wife. The charges subsequently were dropped and Kidd had anger management counseling and paid a fine.

        Kidd says his family will attend Game 6, and Celtics officials say they will provide added security. The Nets aren't expecting similar treatment on the court.

        “Their season is on the line,” Martin says. “We expect them to come out and be aggressive. We understand what's a stake, and we'll meet the challenge.”


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