The Pacers don't know where their offense would be without Stephen Jackson. They hope his sore knee won't force them to find out.
Jackson twisted the knee coming down after a dunk during the Pacers' 82-79 victory in Game 2 Monday night in FleetCenter. Though an MRI Tuesday showed no structural or ligament damage, Jackson was unable to participate in practice Wednesday.
He expects to play in Game 3 Thursday night in Conseco Fieldhouse but just how the injury will limit his effectiveness remains to be seen.
"I do think he'll play because he's a tough guy and this is the time of the season that he really lives for," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "And he's been a gamer in his career as a playoff player, but he's going to be a little hobbled.
"He's been a consistent scorer for us in the first two games, he's made big shots and he's been doing his best to make it hard on Paul Pierce, who's a really difficult matchup. The prospect of him not being able to play at full capacity is something that has us concerned."
Jackson said he couldn't walk without pain, let alone run, but that he intended to play.
"I'm not going to be at 100 percent at all," Jackson said. "It's something I'm going to have to deal with. It's hurting but there's nothing I can do about it until the end of the season.
"Right now, I don't know what I can't do."
In addition to his offensive output, Jackson also has been matched up defensively against Boston's top scorer, Paul Pierce. Though Pierce has averaged 22.5 points, he has shot just 40.7 percent. What if Jackson is unable to handle the defensive matchup?
"We'll probably put smaller guys on Pierce, which you don't want to do because he's so big he can post up," said Reggie Miller. "And he's so quick, when you put a bigger defender on him he can go by him. It's a disadvantage but other guys have to step up."
Jackson joins a growing list of injured Pacers. Jermaine O'Neal is playing with a sprained right shoulder, Fred Jones with a broken finger on his right hand, Jeff Foster with a sore calf, and Austin Croshere and Scot Pollard with sore lower backs. Jamaal Tinsley is on the playoff roster but hasn't practiced in weeks and isn't expected to play anytime soon due to a sore foot.
"He's going to give what he can give," O'Neal said of Jackson. "Obviously he's hurting and he's going through some things, but it's just another story to add to the book. This thing's going to keep going no matter who's hurt or who's out there."
O'Neal Dealing with Decoy Role
O'Neal has been a lot of things in his career, but this business of being a decoy is something new. With Boston keeping two defenders assigned to him at all times, even when he doesn't have the ball, the Pacers' leading scorer has found it difficult to get in an offensive rhythm. He has averaged 10.0 points on 8-of-24 shooting in the first two games.
"I've got to find a way to be a decoy," O'Neal said. "If they're going to put two guys on me I've got to find the open guy and make sure those guys get the ball. If I'm in the paint, I've got to block shots, I've got to rebound, I've got to be a presence. That's really how I see myself in this particular series."
O'Neal played a solid all-around game Monday night with four assists and three blocked shots to go along with 13 points and six rebounds.
"They have a guy draped on him all the time and (Raef) LaFrentz is back there in the weeds, so it's basically being double-teamed without having the ball," said Anthony Johnson. "We have to do a better job of freeing him up a little bit and, at the same time, knowing he's being double-teamed without the ball, maybe him giving himself up for the betterment of the offense."
Sixth man Fred Jones, who averaged 10.6 points during the regular season, hasn't made a basket in the last three games, going 0-of-14 from the field while struggling with the broken bone in the middle finger of his right hand. "It's tough for him because he's obviously in some pain," Carlisle said. "But we have to strike a certain balance as a team. We need everyone to be armed and dangerous out there on the court so it's important that Freddie just keeps playing, takes shots that are there and is solid for us at the defensive end. We need all the resources we can get, in terms of being able to put points on the board."
Though Tinsley was able to participate in a light shooting workout after Wednesday's practice, he isn't expected to play in the immediate future. "He's started to do a few more things on the court," Carlisle said. "I don't see him playing anytime in the next couple of games but he may start doing a few more things with the team." Tinsley missed 36 of the final 39 regular-season games with a sprained foot.
Despite the trials and tribulations of the regular season, the Pacers actually enjoyed increased attendance from the 61-victory campaign of 2003-04, averaging 16,994 per game (up from 16,545) and enjoying 15 sellouts (up from 11). The franchise hopes that fan support extends through the playoffs, with tickets available for both Games 3 and 4. Approximately 1,500 remain for Game 3, and less than 500 remain for Game 4 Saturday night.