BOSTON, May 1 (UPI) -- The Boston Celtics made 14 straight shots in the first half Thursday night and stormed into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 110-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers, closing out the first-round series in six games.
The sixth-seeded Celtics advanced to the conference semifinals for the second straight year and will face the second-seeded New Jersey Nets beginning next Monday night. Last year, Boston lost to the Nets in six games in the conference finals.
Paul Pierce scored 27 points for Boston, which made surprisingly easy work of Indiana. The Celtics set the tone for the series with a huge comeback win in Game 1, turned the trick again in Games 3 and 4 and countered the inside strength advantage of the Pacers with perimeter shooting and experience.
"They're such a big physical team that if you have to grind out your half court offense against them, they can make life miserable for you," Celtics Coach Jim O'Brien said.
"I just think with the veteran guys we have around here and going through what we went through last year, we understand what it takes," Pierce said.
It was the third straight first-round exit for the third-seeded Pacers, who have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA but appear to be lacking the veteran leadership needed to win in the postseason.
"We are a team that likes to put the ball inside and when we don't have a chance to put it inside and they close down the inside lanes, then it opens up perimeter shots for us and we just weren't able to knock down shots from the perimeter," Pacers Coach Isiah Thomas said.
"I think that you have to give them a lot of credit. They exposed that we couldn't hold leads," said Pacers veteran guard Reggie Miller, who had a poor series. "They are the ones that came back from 16 or 17 down in Game 1 and won that. I think we had every opportunity in Games 3, 4 and tonight to get back into the series and we never did."
Indiana's youthful immaturity showed after the game, when temperamental forward Ron Artest got into a brief shoving match with Pacers executive Mel Daniels.
The Celtics made their last 11 shots of the first quarter, opening a 33-15 lead. They sank their first three attempts of the second period, including a turnaround jumper by Mark Blount that pushed the advantage to 40-17.
Indiana got no closer than 13 points thereafter and trailed by as many as 27 late in the third quarter. The toughness they displayed during the first half of the season was nowhere to be found.
Antoine Walker scored 21 points for Boston, which shot 48 percent overall, including 12 of 25 from beyond the arc.
Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal had 25 points and 19 rebounds before being ejected. The Pacers hit just 25 of 85 shots.
Boston has beaten Indiana in all three of their postseason series, all in the first round.
"Losing and not advancing is always frustrating and we have the entire summer to think about it," O'Neal said.
Walter McCarty made a pair of three-pointers to open the game and set the tone. Tony Delk had a pair of three-pointers 62 seconds apart midway through the period and J.R. Bremer made one with 1:22 to go. In the first period, Boston made 13 of 16 shots, including five of six from beyond the arc.
"We got guys who can shoot the ball on this team," McCarty said. "That's the type of team that we've built. If Antoine and Paul are getting doubled, that's how we try to beat teams and fortunately we've been able to do that."
Bremer made a jumper and Pierce had a three-point play to open the second quarter and give the Celtics a 38-15 bulge.
"We were feeding off of emotion," Walker said. "Guys were looking for one another and taking the open shots. Nobody was forcing anything."
"They came out blazing," Pacers forward Al Harrington said. "They shot 81 percent in the first quarter and that's unheard of. That was the last thing that we needed."