BOSTON, Jan. 26 (Ticker) --
Despite the presence of Stephen Jackson
their lineup for the first time in over two months, the Indiana
Pacers failed to keep alive an impressive streak.
Jackson returned from a 30-game suspension and provided an early
boost for the Pacers, before Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics
pulled away down the stretch for a 100-86 victory.
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Pierce scored 23 points and Raef LaFrentz
added 12 and 11
rebounds for the Celtics, who snapped a nine-game losing streak
to the Pacers, a slide that included a four-game sweep in the
first round of the 2004 playoffs.
Despite its 20-22 mark, Boston claimed sole possession of first
place in the Atlantic Division by a half-game over Philadelphia.
It marks the latest the Celtics have been in first since
winning the Atlantic in the 1990-91 season.
"It's a start," Pierce said. "It's good to be on top of the
division, which puts us in the No. 3 seed, but we still have a
long ways to go. We don't want to sit on this and be satisfied
with it. We just want to build on it. We realize we're in
first place but we can't get too overconfident because, even
though we're in first place, we haven't been playing like a
Jackson was playing for the first time since November 19, when
he went into the stands to attack fans in the ugly brawl in
Detroit. His suspension was the third-longest in league
history, and the Pacers were just 13-17 during his absence.
"I had to control my emotions because I heard a lot of things
from the fans today that I normally reply to," Jackson said.
"But I kept my head. I'm just happy to be back and I am not
going to let anybody steal my joy."
The 6-8 swingman showed few signs of rust early by making his
first three shots and scoring eight points in the first quarter.
Jackson shot 3-of-14 thereafter, including 0-of-6 from 3-point
range, as Indiana scored just 58 points in the final 36
"By the third quarter, I kind of ran out of gas," Jackson said.
"I was expecting that. I wasn't able to help my team as much in
the second half. I just crashed. I could feel later in the
game that I didn't have the lift I needed on my jump shot.
Hopefully I can get back to game shape and start playing
The Celtics grabbed a 49-48 halftime lead and put together big
runs to close the third and fourth quarters. LaFrentz scored
eight points and Pierce five during a 17-8 surge that finished
the third period and opened a 77-68 lead.
After the Pacers closed to 84-81 midway through the fourth,
hit a 3-pointer and made a steal that led to
jumper for an eight-point advantage.
The sequence was part of a 16-5 game-ending run, during which
Pierce made a pair of 3-pointers to clinch it.
One day after snapping a nine-game road losing streak, Boston
won for the ninth time in its last 10 home games.
"We felt coming into this year that we were going to play with
more pride at home, regardless," Pierce said. "Regardless of
whom we're playing, we know we're playing well at home and we
have to protect our home court. If we have any chance of going
anywhere in the playoffs, this has to be a place where teams
can't come in here and feel comfortable."
"You look at the schedule ahead and you saw Indiana and Phoenix
(on Friday) coming in here and you know these would be two big
games for us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "Big in the
meaning that they're two very good basketball teams coming into
, who served 15 games for his involvement in the
Detroit melee, scored 24 points and had four blocks for Indiana.
The Pacers were without point guard Jamaal Tinsley
, who sat
out with the flu.
Indiana had dominated Boston since a 4-2 loss in the first round
of the 2003 playoffs.
Rivers may have set the tone before the clubs took the court.
"My pregame speech was not strategy at all," Rivers said. It was
(telling the players) at times you have to become a 'not
tonight' team, a team that decides you're not going to beat us
tonight, if you're better than us or not. You're not going to
beat us. They swept us last year, beat us four straight in the
playoffs and the first two this season. At some point you have
to beat this team and our guys did that tonight."