INDIANAPOLIS, March 19 (Ticker) --
It took five seconds for Ron Artest
to pick up another flagrant foul that may lead to another suspension. He didn't let it affect the rest of his night.
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Artest provided a spark on both ends of the floor as the Indiana Pacers rolled to a 102-72 victory and shifted the label of
"struggling team" to the Boston Celtics.
Off the opening tap, Boston's Paul Pierce drove quickly to the basket. From behind, Artest tried to block the shot and hit Pierce on top of the head, drawing a flagrant foul.
The call could mean a two-game suspension for Artest, who is well over the league threshold and already has missed 11 games due to a handful of suspensions this season. The play will be reviewed by NBA officials Thursday.
"I've never hurt anyone in the NBA, never hurt anyone by fouling them," Artest said. "It was a hard foul. He's OK. If I have to sit out, then I have to sit out."
"I'm hoping once the officials and the league look at it, it can be rescinded," Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. "Clearly, he's a player who people pay attention to and the referees pay attention to. It's going to be that way for a while."
But Artest kept his emotions in control and helped fuel a 24-4 run that closed the first quarter and gave Indiana a 29-13 lead. He scored seven points and shook off an elbow to the face from Antoine Walker and a delay-of-game warning from the officials.
"I didn't keep myn emotions inside," Artest maintained. "I had some hard fouls. I was still bumping and grinding out there.
I'm still going to give up my body for the team -- take elbows, whatever."
Artest, who later was the recipient of a hard foul, said he cannot be baited into an on-court incident.
"It's impossible," he maintained. "It can't be done. You could punch me in my face and I will not retaliate."
Artest scored 18 points and was very active on the defensive end, collecting two steals and forcing a handful of other
turnovers. The Pacers led by 26 points at halftime and 75-45 late in the third quarter.
Jermaine O'Neal also scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Indiana (40-28), which has won two of three since losing 12 of 13. It moved two games ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.
"It was an important win. They're all important," Artest said. "We have to play this hard every game. It was good to get back on track."
"It's like Little Red Riding Hood," Thomas said. "Sometimes you get lost in the woods."
It was the second straight lackluster effort for the Celtics (38-30), who have lost four of their last six games, averaging
less than 75 points in those setbacks.
"It's not a good feeling getting pounded two nights in a row," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien said. "We played a poor basketball
"If we keep this up in the playoffs, we won't be around very long," Pierce said. "We can't afford to be playing this way as
we head down the stretch."
The Pacers also got some early help from Reggie Miller, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first quarter. The veteran sharpshooter had been averaging just 10.5 points on 39 percent shooting over his last 13 games.
Trailing 9-5, Indiana scored 12 straight points to take the lead for good.
The bench provided a lift in the second quarter. Austin Croshere scored five points in a 12-0 run capped by a three-pointer by Jonathan Bender that made it 45-17 with 5:50 to go.
The Pacers held a 53-27 halftime lead, their best defensive effort of the season. They held the Celtics to 11-of-40
shooting, including 5-of-20 by All-Stars Pierce and Walker.
Boston crept within 61-42 with 6:06 left in the third quarter, but Indiana responded with a 12-3 burst. Artest had a steal and jumper before driving the baseline and finding O'Neal for a thunderous dunk and a 75-45 lead with 1:47 to play.
"We look like we did early in the season," O'Neal said. "We were really moving the ball and helping each other out. Tonight
it was down to trusting your teammates, and I hope we as a team take this game and learn from it."
The lead got as big as 35 points in the final period, which was all garbage time.
Al Harrington scored 13 points and Croshere and former Celtic Erick Strickland added 10 apiece for the Pacers, who shot 47.5 percent (38-of-80) and evened the four-game season series.
Walker scored 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting and Pierce added 14 on 4-of-14 for Boston, which finished at 36 percent (29-of-80).
"Why is there something wrong with us? We can't lose a game?" Walker said. "If anything, the disturbing thing is that we
didn't play any defense. We're going down the stretch here before the playoffs. We have to play better at that end of the