Artest, Defense Lead Pacers Past Rockets
Indiana 85, Houston 74
INDIANAPOLIS, Nov. 20 (Ticker) -- Ron Artest played like a center in a small forward's body.
Artest scored seven of his 24 points in a decisive second-half surge as the Indiana Pacers posted an 84-72 victory over the shorthanded Houston Rockets.
A 6-7, 260-pound forward, Artest could not find his shot in the first half, scoring eight points on 3-of-10 from the field. The bench did not help, managing just five points as Indiana held a 38-37 halftime lead.
The Pacers still held a 58-54 lead before going on a 19-2 run that carried midway through the fourth quarter. Artest dominated as he worked over the taller Stromile Swift in the paint. The Pacers outscored the Rockets 34-24 in the paint.
"Artest overpowered us," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "Indiana is a hell of a team and Artest dominated us tonight. We just didn't do a good job guarding him."
"I think we're more focused on team effort right now," said Artest, who made 9-of-20 shots. "I wasn't satisfied with my effort. I did OK tonight."
Indiana rookie Sarunas Jasikevicius missed his first four shots before scoring all seven of his points in the final period.
"They got up on us early, but I thought we responded well," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "I'm glad we won. Our guys worked hard to get it."
Stephen Jackson scored 17 points and Jermaine O'Neal added 15 and 11 rebounds for the Pacers, who allowed their fewest points this season. Artest also contributed three steals and is averaging 2.5 per game.
"Each time we go out there, we improve and get better," Jackson said. "We've got a few new guys on the team that play key roles for us and we are still trying to figure it out. Everybody needs to be able to do there job on defense. I'm happy, but not satisfied."
Rockets rookie Luther Head scored seven points in his first career start for injured superstar swingman Tracy McGrady, who is sitting out for the second time this season due to a strained lower back.
"It's always a factor when you miss someone that averages 25 a game," Houston guard David Wesley said. "It's difficult to replace a guy like that, because he creates so many things for other guys."
Yao Ming had 24 points and 13 rebounds and Derek Anderson scored 13 points for Houston, which has dropped three in a row.
"It's tough for us to score if Yao doesn't play big inside," Van Gundy said.