Doc Era in Boston Begins Much Like Orlando Era Ended


For the second straight game, the Celtics were tested down the stretch by an Eastern Conference rival. With coach Doc Rivers exhorting his team to "stay together," the Pacers started pulling away en route to a 100-94 victory last night at the FleetCenter.

Searching for their first win of the season, the Celtics had to deal with another late collapse. Indiana used a 13-4 run near the end of the fourth quarter to earn the victory.

It took just three minutes for the Pacers to build what would be an insurmountable lead. When Austin Croshere hit a 3-pointer with 5 minutes 3 seconds left to put the Pacers ahead, 82-80, the visitors took the lead for good. Over the next three minutes, Boston went 2 for 4, but committed two turnovers. Indiana scored on five of its next six possessions. And after Jermaine O'Neal missed a pair of free throws, Jamaal Tinsley got the ball back for Indiana with a steal. O'Neal reached the line again and went 1 for 2. Croshere capped the run with a layup that put Indiana ahead, 92-84.

By the time Raef LaFrentz hit a 3-pointer from the left wing, it was a case of too little too late. The Pacers set the final margin with a parade to the line.

The teams entered the fourth quarter tied, 68-68, with Rivers saving all but one of his starters (Ricky Davis) for what could be key moments late in the final period. Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Tom Gugliotta, Jiri Welsch, and Davis (22 points) did not let the Pacers take away any momentum, but the second unit couldn't gain any ground either. When more of the starters returned, the teams were still locked in a tight game, which had been the case for most of the second half.

With a 6-foot turnaround jumper by Ron Artest, the Pacers took a 58-54 advantage with 7:52 left in the third. The 4-point lead marked the largest edge either team had earned in the period. Artest led the Pacers' offense, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the third. It was a good thing Artest came up big because O'Neal cooled off and played just five minutes in the third quarter. Boston relied primarily on its big men as Mark Blount led the way with 5 points in the quarter. Defensively, the Pacers appeared to collect themselves at halftime, holding the Celtics to 35 percent shooting in the third.

The first half featured a numbers game of a nontraditional sort, as fouls and injuries affected player availability, particularly for the visitors. When Artest picked up his second personal with 9:41 left in the first quarter, it ensured an immediate seat on the bench and created a major problem for the already depleted Pacers. But with 6:23 left in the opening period, O'Neal made his first appearance of the season.

The Pacers center sat out the opener with a sore left foot, but he felt well enough during warmups last night to compete. Although his availability was a game-time decision, O'Neal came in to replace Scot Pollard. O'Neal's presence proved key as Indiana managed to stay close in the first half with 13 points in 13 minutes from the big man. Still, Boston carried a 52-51 lead into intermission.

Looking at more traditional numbers, the Celtics' halftime lead could be viewed as either positive or negative. Positive because they were ahead, shot 52 percent, and held the Pacers to 38 percent from the floor. Negative because they couldn't build a larger lead with Indiana committing 11 turnovers (for 16 points) and Artest and Tinsley in foul trouble.

Poor rebounding was one of the reasons Boston couldn't keep Indiana down. In the first half, the Pacers outrebounded the Celtics, 26-17, including 9-2 on the offensive glass. As a result, Indiana scored 15 second-chance points.

Boston led by as many as 6 points several times in the first quarter. The first time came after Gary Payton scored with a fast-break layup to push the Green ahead, 19-13. The Celtics' running came remains plagued by inconsistency. When they were able to quicken the tempo, whether by Payton pushing the ball or Paul Pierce using a long outlet pass, the Celtics scored easily.

But mental lapses that led to turnovers tripped up Boston and let Indiana back in the game. Also, the bench had trouble maintaining leads. Late in the first, with Welsch, Allen, Jefferson, Gugliotta, and Marcus Banks on the floor, the Pacers staged a 7-0 run to take a 26-24 lead on a tip shot by Stephen Jackson. The Celtics established a 7-point lead (50-43) near the end of the second when Pierce hit a 13-footer on the break. Then, three turnovers allowed the Pacers to close the quarter with an 8-2 run.

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