INDIANAPOLIS, April 27 (Ticker) -- Jermaine O'Neal
said he would find a
way and he did.
No longer shackled by foul trouble, O'Neal collected 37 points,
15 rebounds and four blocks in a huge game as the Indiana Pacers
put the pressure on the New Jersey Nets with a 107-95 victory.
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scored a playoff career-high 25 points and
handed out eight assists for the sixth-seeded Pacers, who
dominated the second half and opened a surprising 2-1 lead in
the Eastern Conference first-round series over the third-seeded
In the first two games at New Jersey, O'Neal - a perennial
All-Star - had just eight baskets and 10 fouls. After Game Two,
he complained about the officiating but added that he would
"find a way."
"After studying the tape (from Games 1 and 2) over and over
again, I got a better feel for how they are playing me," O'Neal
said. "I realized that, with the defensive sets they were
using, the best thing to do is keep moving and be aggressive.
It's hard for them to double when you keep moving."
Hours after being fined $15,000 for his remarks, O'Neal took it
out on the Nets, who tried a handful of defenders on him with no
success. Center Nenad Krstic
fouled out and forwards
and Cliff Robinson
- both excellent post defenders -
also had foul trouble.
"I can't tell you how many times I hit rewind over and over
again," said O'Neal, who tied a playoff career high for points.
"In the first two games, I was trying to fight guys off in the
post with one arm and they were coming around me and stealing
the ball. The tape showed me I needed to keep a body on them
and get the ball in better position on the block. Tape never
"He got fined $15,000?" Collins said. "Well, maybe we need to
get fined, too, because there were some calls tonight that
didn't go our way."
O'Neal came out firing, making his first six shots. He finished
12-of-15 from the field and also did it at the defensive end,
dominating the paint with his rebounding and shot-blocking.
"Jermaine is a top player in this league," Pacers coach
said. "He missed a lot of games (this season) and it's
taken him a while to get his conditioning and his rhythm back.
Fortunately for us, he's hitting his stride at a good time."
The Pacers trailed, 55-51, at halftime despite 19 points from
O'Neal, who continued to assert himself in the pivotal third
quarter. As Indiana surged to a 78-70 lead, O'Neal scored 10
points on 4-of-5 shooting while New Jersey made just 3-of-18
The Nets closed to 79-76 on six straight points by
, who scored 25. O'Neal answered with a fadeaway jumper
and Stephen Jackson
drained a 3-pointer as the Pacers began to
pull away, with Johnson taking charge.
The former Net scored Indiana's next 10 points, capping the
spurt with a 3-pointer and step-back jumper around a block by
O'Neal to extend the advantage to 94-82 with 5:38 remaining.
"It's special (to have a game like this) during playoff time,"
Johnson said. "J.O. had a great game tonight and eventually they
started double-teaming him, which left me free to roam. I have
a job to do and that is to put the ball in the basket when my
number is called."
"A.J. is playing with great awareness and great savvy," Carlisle
said. "He just looks like a guy who understands the pulse of
the team he runs. He knows his team as well as any player I've
had an opportunity to coach."
Six free throws by O'Neal - who was 13-of-14 from the line -
sealed it at 102-89 with 2:58 to go.
"The guy (O'Neal) missed four shots, including free throws,"
Jefferson said. "The difference was that he was playing at
home. A lot of things tend to go your way when you're at home."
Johnson made 8-of-13 shots and grabbed five rebounds as he
outplayed Nets star guard Jason Kidd
, who had 14 points, six
assists and six rebounds. In the fourth quarter, Johnson
outscored Kidd, 13-0.
"(Kidd) is a great defender, but I know him pretty well,"
Johnson said. "I know what I can do and what I can't do.
Tonight, it worked out for me and we got a much-needed win. Now
we have a chance to put a stranglehold on the series Saturday."
Jackson scored 17 points and Peja Stojakovic
returned from a
one-game absence due to a knee injury to add 10 for the Pacers,
who shot 52 percent (34-of-65) and held a 43-30 advantage on the
scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half for
the Nets, who must win Saturday in order to avoid a 3-1 deficit
- a hole which only seven teams have climbed out of in NBA
history. New Jersey has lost eight of its last nine playoff
"They (Pacers) definitely stepped up their level of intensity,"
Carter said. "We just know we have to regroup and bounce back
Saturday. The most important game is always the next one. All
games are important, but the most important one is always the
"I expect them to throw the kitchen sink at us," Johnson said.
"They are a talented ballclub and there's no way you can
overlook them or sell them short."