by Conrad Brunner
August 19, 2004
Battling past an upset-minded opponent, the 2003-04 Pacers relied on All-Star forwards Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest to carry them past the 1980-81 team in six games in the second round of the Pacers Greatest Teams Tournament.
The victory sets up a showdown of the two top seeds in the NBA bracket final on Friday: the 61-win team of 2003-04 and the 58-win team of 1997-98.
O'Neal was solid throughout, averaging a series-high 20.7 points, including 29 in Game 2. Artest also was steady and stepped forward with 29 in the Game 6 clincher. He averaged 19.8 points for the victors. The only other player to average double-figure scoring was Al Harrington, who chipped in 14.8 per game off the bench.
The 1980-81 team had much more balance but lacked the explosive individual scoring games. Billy Knight led seven players averaging in double figures at 17.7, followed by James Edwards (14.3), Johnny Davis (13.7), Mike Bantom and George McGinnis (both 12.5), Louis Orr (10.8) and Dudley Bradley (10.0).
Game 1: 2003-04 wins, 91-89: Playing the stifling defense that was the team's trademark, the '03-04 Pacers held their high-scoring counterparts to a series-low point total. Offensively, O'Neal (19), Artest (19) and Harrington (16) led the way. Knight led the 1980-81 team with 20, but no teammate scored more than 14 and Edwards, the team's second-leading scorer during the regular season, was shut out.
Game 2: 2003-04 wins, 103-97: O'Neal's 29-point game made the difference in another close decision. Artest scored 17, Harrington 12, Reggie Miller 11 and Anthony Johnson contributed 10 off the bench. Edwards bounced back with 19 for the '80-81 team, while Davis had 17, Knight 16 and McGinnis 15.
Game 3: 2003-04 wins, 124-90: Flexing their muscles at both ends of the court, the '03-04 Pacers enjoyed a rare blowout as O'Neal (23) and Artest (21) got plenty of offensive help. Reserves Anthony Johnson (17), Harrington (15) and Austin Croshere (14) had big games, while Miller and Jamaal Tinsley scored 11 apiece. Edwards had 18 and Knight 17 for the losers.
Game 4: 1980-81 wins, 110-101: Protecting their Market Square Arena home floor, the underdogs staved off elimination as seven players scored at least 12 points, led by Knight with 17. Edwards and Davis had 15 each, Bantom and McGinnis 14 each, Orr 13 and Bradley 12. O'Neal had 23, Artest 17, Harrington and Johnson 15 and Tinsley 11 but the '03-04 cause was hurt by Miller's one-point performance.
Game 5: 1980-81 wins, 98-75: Stunning the top seeds with their best performance of the tournament, the '80-81 team enjoyed a 23-point rout to cut the series deficit to 3-2. Orr came up big off the bench with 17, complementing Knight's 16 and Edwards' 15. The '03-04 team couldn't buy a basket as O'Neal managed just nine points. Artest scored 16, Miller 12 and Harrington 11.
Game 6: 2003-04 wins, 120-117: Both teams brough their A-game to this one as six players scored at least 19 points, but Artest's 29-point game turned out to be the difference-maker. O'Neal scored 21 and Harrington 20 for the winners, while Miller had 13 and Jeff Foster 10. The 1980-81 team was led by Knight with 20, Edwards and Bradley with 19 each, Davis with 17 and Bantom with 16. Orr added 12 and McGinnis 10.
Friday: The NBA bracket final pits the top two seeds, the 61-21 team of 2003-04 and the 58-24 team of 1997-98.