EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The day before the New Jersey Nets met the Boston Celtics in the first game of the Eastern Conference finals, Kenyon Martin was already in defensive mode.
Martin did his best to deny Paul Pierce on Saturday, refusing to give the Celtics' leading scorer a hint about how he would be played in today's game.
"He is a good all-round player," Martin said of Pierce, who averaged 37 points in four games against New Jersey this season, including a 48-point performance that featured 46 after halftime of an overtime victory. "I know what he wants to do and where he wants to catch the ball."
When asked about Pierce's so-called sweet spot, Martin scowled. He gave the same look when asked for a little defensive insight.
"You all asked me that yesterday and I didn't answer, so I'm not answering today," Martin said, breaking into a smile as he finished the sentence.
This is a matchup that Martin relishes. While most people recognize him as the Nets' flagrant foul-prone bad boy, Martin has the ability to shut down anyone.
In Pierce's case, that might mean limiting him to 20.
"This is an opportunity," Martin said. "If I go out and do it, people will recognize what I have done all season. If I can slow him down, our chances of winning are pretty good."
While Martin would not discuss the Nets' defensive plans for Pierce, coach Byron Scott said the first line of defense is not letting him get the ball.
While Martin prefers to play his opponent one-on-one, Scott said he will get some help from time to time. That's what happened in the Nets' first-round series with Indiana.
Jermaine O'Neal scored 30 points in the Pacers' win in Game One. After that, Martin was assigned to guard him, and O'Neal totaled 56 points in the next four games.
"We are putting a lot of onus on him to guard him (Pierce), and he knows we have a lot of confidence in him," Scott said.
Martin isn't the only one who has to step up on defense for the Nets.
Keith Van Horn will have the assignment of containing Antoine Walker, and Jason Kidd will guard Kenny Anderson in a series pairing two teams that didn't even make the playoffs a year ago.