BOSTON, FEb. 26 (Ticker) --
The Indiana Pacers suffer six-game losing streaks about as frequently as Reggie Miller
airballs a potential game-winning three-pointer.
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In a game that featured ugly shooting from both teams, Miller entirely missed the basket on a wide-open shot from the arc just before the buzzer, allowing the Boston Celtics to hold on for a 71-69 victory over the Pacers, who have lost six straight contests for the first time in a decade.
After Walter McCarty nailed a three-pointer from the left corner to give Boston a 69-67 lead with 24 seconds left, Indiana All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal -- who had made his first seven free throws -- missed two from the line with 10 seconds remaining.
"I missed it, that's all," O'Neal said. "No different than the first six, seven, eight that I made."
All-Star Paul Pierce then sank 1-of-2 from the stripe two seconds later to make it 70-67 before O'Neal scored on an uncontested dunk with 5.6 seconds left. McCarty made only 1-of-2 free throws with 4.7 seconds to play, giving Indiana a chance to tie or win.
Miller, the NBA's all-time leader in three-pointers, got the ball in the right corner, head-faked Pierce off the court, dribbled one step to his left and had an open look at the hoop.
"We had the option of going for the tie but when Reggie has the basketball and he's that wide open at the three-point line, you take that nine times out of 10, 10 out of 10," Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said.
Miller improbably shot well left of the rim, giving the Pacers their first six-game losing streak since dropping seven in a row from Feb. 2-15, 1993, when Thomas played for the Detroit Pistons.
Antoine Walker scored 18 points, Pierce had nine of his 16 in the fourth quarter and Tony Delk 14 off the bench for Boston, which, like Indiana, shot just 34 percent from the field.
"Sometimes it's not a thing of beauty, but beating that basketball team twice this year is a real feather in our guys'
caps," said Celtics coach Jim O'Brien, whose team is 2-1 against the Pacers this season. "Great, great effort for us down the stretch."
Pierce, who was mired in foul trouble, made only 5-of-13 shots but, with his team trailing by 67-66, passed out of a
double-team to Delk, who swung it over to McCarty in the left corner for the go-ahead basket.
"If you're going to trap Paul Pierce, something's got to be open," O'Brien said. "They can't play six guys on the court.
So something's got to be open and that's why we surround Paul with capable three-point shooters."
"They have to double-team Paul and Antoine, 'cause if not, most of those guys would score 40 points on them, so they have to
respect them," McCarty said. "We know once they pass it out, we have an open shot. They have all the confidence in the world on us and Coach O'Brien has confidence in us to knock the shots down -- that's why we're up on the court."
O'Neal collected 31 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds for Indiana, which did not have another
player reach double figures.
"Shooting comes and goes - it's part of the game," O'Neal said. "We had it all year. You can make them or you are going to
miss them. It is a 50-50 chance."
"I think it was a game where both teams played good defense, and I think if we have defensive battles like that, it's going to be a low-scoring game," said Pacers forward Al Harrington, who scored just eight points. "So I think we both came out with the intent to stop the other team and everybody did a good job at defense, but we ended up losing."
The Pacers were playing without forward Ron Artest, who was suspended by the team for disciplinary reasons.
"I don't think they miss him at all," McCarty said. "Just another opportunity for players to step up."
The Pacers jumped out to an early 10-2 lead before Boston held them without a point for more than six minutes and closed the
quarter on a 19-4 run.
The Celtics took a 40-33 lead into the break, limiting the Pacers to their lowest first-half total of the season, before
Indiana closed to 55-54 entering the final 12 minutes.
"Both teams were very intense - getting into it with the refs, getting into it with each other, a little talking out there,"
McCarty said. "Both teams were very intense, both wanting to win the ballgame."
"We are just one game away," O'Neal said. "Every game is a new game for us and we just have to hope that we play better and
make free throws and make shots the next game."