by Conrad Brunner
Nov. 15, 2002
Indianapolis, Nov. 15, 2002 -
Having established himself as one of the premier defensive players in the league, Ron Artest is adding something more to his repertoire.
He's becoming a go-to option on offense, as well.
After Ray Allen led the Bucks all the way back from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime on a driving dunk with seven-tenths of a second left in regulation, Artest took over in the extra period. He scored seven of the Pacers' 10 points, including the decisive three-point play with 13.1 seconds remaining, to give Indiana its sixth consecutive victory, 103-100, on Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"We talk about him every time we come in here after the game," said Pacers coach Isiah Thomas. "He never ceases to amaze me. He can score down low and at the end of the game, his concentration really went up on the offensive end. He was taking the ball strong to the basket, drawing fouls and knocking them down at the line. He was tough with the basketball and I thought he made good basketball plays."
The Pacers improved the best record in the Eastern Conference to 7-1 and extended their home winning streak to nine in a row at home dating back to last season. They also passed a major test against a quality opponent, something that has been scarce in a favorable early schedule.
"Not knocking the teams we've been playing, but this was our first challenge since New Jersey (the team's only loss) and we responded," said Al Harrington. "It was a wake-up call. We didn't want to get too cocky. There are some good teams in this league and we know we've got to bring it every night."
After blowing out the first three opponents on the homestand by an average of 19 points, the Pacers appeared on the way to another. They held Milwaukee to 11-of-33 shooting and a total of 34 points in the second and third periods, building an 82-62 lead early in the fourth period.
But Allen, who had missed nine of his first 12 shots, found his rhythm to score 11 of his 24 points in the final eight minutes as the Bucks closed the period with a 30-10 run. The Pacers went nearly six minutes without a basket, missing seven in a row at one point, and wound up 5-of-17 in the period. Allen and Michael Redd combined for 21 points in the quarter.
"During the time they came back, they were dangerous because they had nothing to lose so they were shooting from anywhere - and they can make them from anywhere," said Ron Mercer, who scored 11 points off the bench. "But thing is, we weren't running our offense the way we needed to be running it. We got away from what was working."
In other words, the Pacers became a little impatient and perimeter-happy, a trend that reversed itself immediately in overtime when Artest drove for a statement dunk, then Jermaine O'Neal dunked on the next possession to put the home team up 96-92. Milwaukee came back to take a 98-97 lead - its first since the initial basket of the game - on Sam Cassell's turnaround with 52 seconds left.
Artest then became the first option. He drew a foul and made a pair of free throws for a 99-98 lead with 37 seconds to go, but Allen responded with a nice post move against Artest to put the Bucks back on top. Artest then posted up Allen in return, drawing contact, then flipping up a shot while falling out of bounds. It went in, prompting Artest to pound the basket support repeatedly in celebration. He made the free throw with 13.1 seconds left.
"He (Allen) was getting off, so I had to do something," said Artest. "He stepped it up, but it was mainly because of my defensive mistakes. We'll see what happens next time we play Milwaukee."
The most obvious was when Artest went for the steal, leaving Allen a clear path to the basket on the game-tying dunk at the end of regulation. But he made up for his mistakes with another strong offensive game, scoring 22 points with seven assists.
"He's so strong, you have to foul him," said Mercer of Artest. "If you don't grab him with two hands, he's going to score. They grabbed him and he still made the basket."
O'Neal led the Pacers with 23 points and 16 rebounds, adding five assists and two blocked shots. Artest made 9-of-10 free throws and had three steals in addition to his 22 points and seven assists. Harrington and Jonathan Bender scored 13 apiece, Mercer 11 and Brad Miller 10 points with 11 rebounds.
Milwaukee (4-4) was led by Allen's 24 points. He also had eight rebounds. Cassell had 20 points and six assists, and Redd came off the bench for 18 points and 10 rebounds.
NOTEWORTHY: It was the Pacers' first overtime game of the season. They were 3-4 in overtime games last season. ... The team extended the best start in NBA franchise history, and is two victories away from tying the best start ever, 9-1 in the 1969-70 ABA season. ... Milwaukee's 30 points in the fourth period was a season-high for the defense, and the Pacers' 12 points scored was a season-low for the offense.