O'Neal, Defense Carry Pacers Past Rockets

by Conrad Brunner

January 5, 2002

On a night when the rest of the team was struggling to get a quality shot, let alone make one, O'Neal carried the offense down the stretch, scoring 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead basket on a tough turnaround in the post with 39.8 seconds remaining. O'Neal also had 15 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Though he scored a modest 11 points, nine came in the second half, including a huge 3-pointer that cut Houston's lead to 77-76 with 3:44 remaining and provided impetus to the 13-4 game-closing run. Miller also had seven assists.
"Down the stretch the team really played defense. We were fortunate to stay within reaching distance because we came down four or five times and didn't get anything. But our defense kept us in the game and we were able to pull it out."
After scoring 50 points and shooting .525 in the first half, the Rockets totaled 29 points and shot .263 in the second.
Points off turnovers: Pacers 13, Rockets 9
Points in the paint: Rockets 42, Pacers 30
Second-chance points: Pacers 14, Rockets 8
Fast-break points: Pacers 12, Rockets 12
Starters scoring: Pacers 65, Rockets 45
Bench scoring: Rockets 34, Pacers 16
January 5, 2002
Compaq Center
With Jermaine O'Neal carrying the offense and everyone contributing to a staunch defense, the Pacers shut down the Rockets in the second half and outscored the home team 13-4 in the final 5:10 to pull out an 81-79 road victory on Saturday night in Houston.

The Pacers completed their third consecutive sweep of back-to-back games to improve to 20-15 overall. It was also their fourth victory in the last five road games, improving their season mark to 9-10. Houston dropped to 10-23.

After three more days off, the Pacers play host to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. Shaquille O'Neal missed five games with toe problems, but returned to action Friday night and is expected to play. The teams split the last two regular-season series.

Houston led most of the way, building a margin as big as 10 midway through the third period, and the Rockets were holding onto a 75-68 lead with 5:28 remaining. But Houston would make just two more baskets, none in the final three minutes, as the defense shut them out for their final six possessions. Three-pointers by Jamaal Tinsley and Reggie Miller got the finishing kick started but it was tough to finish. Trailing 79-78, the Pacers had three possessions with the chance to take the lead and finally cashed in on the third, when O'Neal hit a tough post-up shot with 39.8 seconds remaining. He then stood his ground to draw an offensive foul on a drive by Steve Francis with 13 seconds left and made one of two free throws with 7.9 remaining. After Cuttino Mobley's ill-advised off-balance drive banged hard off the rim, O'Neal and Francis tied up for a jump ball with 1.8 seconds left. The toss was too high and neither player got a clean swipe at it and the ball wound up in Francis' arms, but his tough turnaround over an extended O'Neal bounced harmlessly out of bounds at the buzzer.

This was hardly a vintage offensive night for the Pacers, who had to slog through a .415 shooting night. O'Neal's 28 and 15 rebounds led the way, and only two other players scored in double figures - Reggie Miller and Jamaal Tinsley with 11 apiece. The starting guards combined for 16 assists. Houston was 10-of-38 in the second half, totaling 29 points, and wound up at .397 for the game. Francis had 13 points on 3-of-8 shooting, adding nine rebounds and six assists. Eddie Griffin scored 13 off the bench, nine in the second quarter but just two in the second half. Cuttino Mobley and Moochie Norris scored 12 apiece, and Kenny Thomas had 11. Griffin had eight rebounds.

In some ways, this one was almost as impressive as the dismantling of San Antonio the night before, because the Pacers had to scratch for offense and rely heavily on the collapsing, swarming defense to carry them. Coach Isiah Thomas left the starters in the full first quarter, then brought in a five-man second-unit to start the second period, a move that backfired as Houston promptly took control. The Pacers missed 14 of their first 18 shots in the period as the Rockets outscored them 23-9 to take a 44-35 lead, a margin they maintained into the break. Houston was tooling along with a 59-49 lead midway through the third period when the Rockets quickly unraveled, as both Kelvin Cato and Francis picked up technicals for protesting no-calls during an 8-point Indiana run that cut the deficit to a manageable two, setting up another dramatic fourth quarter between the two teams, whose last two meetings resulted in four overtimes. When they return to practice, the players would be well advised to work a little more on sideline inbounds plays. With 9.1 seconds remaining and the Pacers ahead 80-79, Tinsley again made an error in judgment in the inbounds pass, ignoring an open Miller in the backcourt to throw it to O'Neal, who was quickly fouled and missed one of two free throws. That left the door open for the Rockets, but the defense kept them on the stoop.

This was the seventh time this season in which the Pacers have recovered from a deficit of at least 10 points to win a game. ...The defense has yielded 511 points in the last six games (85.2) as opponents have gone 193 of 490 from the field (.394). ... Tinsley tossed up 17 shots, his most in 22 games, making just five, but did have nine assists and six rebounds. ... The Pacers improved their record in back-to-back games to 16-10. ... Travis Best is 13-of-42 from the field in the last nine games (.310). ... Al Harrington is 18-of-53 in the last four (.339). ... Jalen Rose scored seven points in the first quarter but none thereafter and has averaged 11.8 points on 19-of-55 shooting (.345) in the last four games. ... O'Neal has scored at least 20 points 11 times in the last 15 games, with eight double-doubles in that span. ... The Rockets welcomed back two starters, forwards Walt Williams and Kenny Thomas, from brief injury absences. Williams missed all 10 of his shots. ... The Rockets announced forward Glen Rice, out since Dec. 6, would undergo surgery to repair a partial tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee. There was no word on a timetable for his return.