O'Neal Again Dominates as Pacers Stop Cavs

by Conrad Brunner

December 22, 2001

After missing two of his first three shots and scoring just one basket in the first seven minutes of the game, it looked like O'Neal's hot streak might come to an end. As it turned out, he was just getting warmed up. After a relatively quiet first quarter, O'Neal caught fire and burned Cleveland the rest of the night on his way to a career high of 38 points. His previous career high of 30 points was matched against the Cavs in the final regular-season game of the 2000-01 season. Both of his previous 30-point games required overtime. It was the eighth time in nine games O'Neal has scored at least 20 points, and he has averaged 23.7 in that span. In the last three games, O'Neal has racked up 94 points (31.3) on .638 shooting (37 of 58).
Breaking out of a mild slump, Tinsley racked up 14 assists, 11 in the first half, to set the tempo as the Pacers wound up with 33 assists on 43 field goals. He also hit four of five shots from the field and scored nine points.
"I can't say enough about the organization, my teammates and the coaching staff. My teammates have altered their games to get me the ball. I don't really know how to express that. All I can say is I'm feeling real comfortable with my scoring."
O'Neal increased his season scoring average to 19.2 and moved past Jalen Rose (18.6) for the team lead for the first time. Rose averaged 24.0 points in the first 11 games but has cooled to just 11.0 in the last five while O'Neal has become the primary option in the offense.
Points off turnovers: Spurs 18, Pacers 16
Points in the paint: Spurs 30, Pacers 28
Second-chance points: Spurs 14, Pacers 7
Fast-break points: Spurs 20, Pacers 11
Starters scoring: Pacers 86, Cavs 76
Bench scoring: Cavs 27, Pacers 23
December 22, 2001
Gund Arena
With Jermaine O'Neal exploding for a career-high 38 points and quelling a late Cleveland rally with a critical blocked shot, the Pacers took control in the second quarter then withstood several charges by the Cavs to pull out a 109-103 road victory on Saturday night in Gund Arena.

It was the second victory in as many nights for the Pacers, who improved to 16-13 overall, 6-9 on the road. They're three games over .500 for the first time since Nov. 13 (6-3). Cleveland dropped to 11-16 overall, 7-7 at home. The Pacers have won seven in a row in Cleveland and 11 of 12 overall from the Cavs.

Christmas. The Pacers actually get three days off before returning to action against Orlando on Dec. 26. This will be the second meeting of the season, as the Pacers won the first 117-107 on Nov. 2 behind 24 points from Rose.

When O'Neal returned from a brief rest early in the fourth quarter, the Pacers' lead, which had been as large as 14 points in the second period, had dwindled to five (87-82). He promptly scored eight points in a 10-2 run that pushed the margin to 13 (97-84) but the Cavs, who had opted to play him straight up until that point, began doubling O'Neal aggressively and the Pacers' offense suddenly dried up as no one else was able to assert himself. Al Harrington made the only two baskets in the final 5:50 for the Pacers, who saw Cleveland cut it to 103-100 in the final minute. With a chance to get even closer, O'Neal swatted away a putback attempt by Bryant Stith with under 30 seconds remaining, and the Cavs were forced to foul thereafter.

The Pacers shot a season-high .614 and had 33 assists; they're 7-0 in games with at least 30 assists. O'Neal had career highs of 38 points and 15 field goals made but curiously had just four rebounds. Reggie Miller scored 18 points on seven field-goal attempts, adding five assists. Jalen Rose scored 11 points, Jeff Foster 10 with seven rebounds, and Al Harrington 11. Andre Miller and Wesley Person each scored 20 for the Cavs. Miller added eight rebounds and eight assists. Chris Mihm had 19 points and seven rebounds, and Stith produced 10 points in just six minutes, all in the fourth quarter. The Cavs outrebounded the Pacers 31-28 and scored 14 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds.

Coach Isiah Thomas' decision to shift the offensive focus from the perimeter to the post continues to pay dividends, as O'Neal has established himself as the best offensive low-post player in the Eastern Conference. Cavs coach John Lucas opted not to use 7-3 Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the first half, perhaps because this was the fourth game in five nights and he didn't want to over-exert the fragile center. When Ilgauskas finally entered the game with 8:33 left in the third quarter, the Cavs were down by just four points. Though O'Neal already had three fouls and suddenly was faced with a defender four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier, he racked up 14 points in the period to trump the Cavs. The re-structuring of the bench rotation continued, as Harrington and Jonathan Bender (six points, four rebounds, four assists) played the heaviest minutes, with Travis Best and Carlos Rogers supplementing. Austin Croshere picked up his first DNP-CD since 1998-99 season.

Rose ended his 3-point skid at 15 consecutive misses when he made his first attempt in the third period, but he didn't break out of his recent slump. In the last five games, he has averaged 11.0 points and shot .298 (20 of 67) from the field. ... Harrington extended his streak of double-figure scoring games off the bench to 14. He has averaged 15.6 in that span. ... Miller has averaged 19.8 points in the last six games on .493 shooting (36 of 73). ... Cavs small forward Lamond Murray left the game in the third period with a strained lower back and did not return. ... Both head coaches picked up technical fouls on consecutive possessions midway through the third period. ... Jeff Foster did not commit a foul in the first half, then was hit with four in the third quarter.