INDIANAPOLIS - In a state uniquely devoted to basketball, the Indiana
Pacers and their still-loyal fans faced a harsh new reality last night
at Conseco Fieldhouse as eight players dressed for a game against the Celtics.
The contest marked the first time Indiana took the court knowing the
full extent of suspensions levied against Ron Artest (remainder of the
season), Stephen Jackson (30 games), and Jermaine O'Neal (25 games).
Although yesterday the Players' Union filed an appeal of the stiffest
suspensions, more than likely the Pacers will be shorthanded for the
next couple months.
movie "Hoosiers" made the state synonymous with basketball passion and
triumphant underdogs. Following the game, forward Austin Croshere called
the Pacers' play without their top three players "a classic underdog
story." But Celtics
coach Doc Rivers took a slightly different view, likening the Pacers to
a "wounded dog." There was no telling what Indiana might do as it tried
to stay the course for a championship. Boston learned that firsthand,
falling to Indiana, 106-96.
lot of fans in other cities come to watch the stars play," said Indiana
coach Rick Carlisle. "But in Indianapolis and the state of Indiana,
people come to watch the game of basketball."
a small-market team, the Pacers always thought they never got the
respect and attention they deserved. They have the attention. Now the
Pacers, particularly their young stars, are trying to win respect for
how they play, and to distance themselves from what happened.
understand now that we're going to have to adjust our style and be very
precise at both ends of the court," said Carlisle. "We're going to have
to be efficient. We'll have to play at an extremely high level in terms
of intensity. We're making some changes. You'll see. Style and
tempo-wise we have to play to the strengths that we have. We've got to
be an extra-pass team. We've got to be a very smart team in transition.
We are still, in the big picture, thinking about winning a
During the 24
hours before playing Boston, the Indiana coaching staff and players
reiterated the importance of moving on and playing smart. But in the
wake of the Friday night brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pacers
know better than anybody that actions speak louder than words.
Indiana played a determined, composed, and gutsy game, breaking a 78-78
tie in the fourth with a 20-8 run. The Pacers stretched their lead to
98-86 when James Jones (career-high 22 points) nailed a 3-pointer with 3
minutes 3 seconds remaining. During the decisive spurt, Boston was
undermanned when Mark Blount fouled out with 3:53 to go. Upon returning
to the bench, Blount shook his head in disbelief, at his sixth personal
and what was happening on the floor.
While the Pacers kept their cool, the Celtics
glared at the referees and each other during the final minutes. Ricky
Davis was called for delay of game after holding the ball in a
not-so-silent protest of the officiating. Jiri Welsch (13 points, 5
rebounds) fouled out with 28.5 seconds left.
The loss went beyond embarrassment for the Celtics,
who now have their own small place in the history of The Brawl as the
first team to loose to the depleted Pacers. Given the circumstances,
Paul Pierce said the defeat "ranks right up there" as one of the
toughest he can remember experiencing.
didn't match up to the challenge," said Gary Payton, who had 14 points
and 8 assists. "We played well for about a quarter. That was it. They
outhustled us. They outrebounded us. They did everything they possibly
could [to win]. We weren't prepared. All of them played well on an
emotional high. We've got to respect players like that because they are
in the NBA."
standing ovation from the crowd of 17,135 every time they took a lead,
the Pacers entered halftime ahead, 50-47, after trailing by as many 11
in the first quarter. Boston reeled off a 14-4 run behind strong play
from Raef LaFrentz. But Indiana came back with a 10-2 run, led by Jamaal
Tinsley. Recovering from a right wrist injury suffered in the fight, it
was not clear until gametime whether Tinsley (game-high 29 points)
would be available.
players are going to have to step up every day," said Fred Jones (16
points, career-high 10 rebounds), when asked how the Pacers will deal
with the absence of Artest, Jackson, and O'Neal. "We've got players on
this roster who can play the game. We'll just showcase that now. Of
course, my role is increased. I've got to step up and be more of a
leader and hold the fort down until the rest of my teammates get back."
The Pacers did more than hold the fort down against the Celtics,
stretching their halftime advantage to 12 (64-52) in the third quarter.
But without Artest harassing him on defense and tiring him out, Pierce
went on a scoring binge, notching 10 of his 20 points in the third. He
tied the game with a 21-footer with 3:06 remaining in the quarter. The
teams entered the fourth even, 72-72, after the officials disallowed a
late layup by Scot Pollard.
Miller, who will serve a one-game suspension once he returns from a
broken left hand, theorized that teams would be looking for "payback"
after the way Indiana defeated opponents last season. Despite a warning
from Rivers, the Celtics thought they could easily defeat a shadow of the team that swept them in the first-round of the 2004 playoffs.
good as long as things are good," said Rivers. "When things go bad, we
fall apart as quick as any team I've been around. The bottom line is
they kept playing hard and we stopped. At the end of the day, [the
Pacers] are going to win certain games. They're going to win all the
games where teams come in and don't take them seriously. This team
knocked us out of the playoffs, they beat us the second game of the
season. I thought we would have more pride."