O'Neal Dominates Nets Inside as Pacers Win

by Conrad Brunner

December 21, 2001

Continuing to establish himself as the best offensive post player in the Eastern Conference, O'Neal tortured the Nets with a season-high 29 points, 19 coming in the second half. He made 10 of 16 shots and nine of 15 free throws as two of the Nets' top front-line players, Keyon Martin and Aaron Williams, fouled out. He also had nine rebounds, three assists, five steals and three blocked shots. In the last eight games, O'Neal has scored at least 20 points seven times while averaging 22.0 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Though he did not break out of his shooting slump, Rose played one of his best floor games of the season with six rebounds, five assists, two steals and aggressive defense. He played point guard for most of the Pacers' game-turning run in the third period.
"When (Jermaine O'Neal) gets it in the post, with his quickness and athleticism, he's going to get a good shot or people have got to foul him. I don't think there's a guy in the league that can play him one-on-one in the post without fouling him. He did a good job of maintaining his patience in the post and maintaining his composure when he got fouled."
Rose missed his only two 3-point attempts of the game, extending his streak to 15 misses in a row over a span of 10 games.
Points off turnovers: Pacers 21, Nets 11
Points in the paint: Pacers 40, Nets 34
Second-chance points: Nets 16, Pacers 15
Fast-break points: Pacers 26, Nets 9
Starters scoring: Pacers 65, Nets 54
Bench scoring: Nets 40, Pacers 35
December 21, 2001
Conseco Fieldhouse
Coach Isiah Thomas sent a message to his team before the game, challenging them to make the commitment to becoming a contender in the Eastern Conference this season. "The opportunity is here and has presented itself," Thomas said. "It's up to each and every individual to accept the challenge, examine himself and not be afraid to really go after it." The players responded with one of their biggest victories of the season, dominating the second and third periods, then holding off a late New Jersey surge to beat the top team in the East 100-94 on Friday night in Conseco Fieldhouse.

It was just the second victory this season over a team currently with a winning record for the Pacers, who improved to 15-13 overall, 10-4 at home. The Nets had a four-game winning streak snapped and dropped to 16-8, 7-6 on the road.

Completing their 11th back-to-back doubleheader of the season, the Pacers head to Cleveland to take on the resurgent Cavs, who have come on strong since center Zydrunas Ilgauskas was activated early this month. Pacers are 4-6 in the second game of those doubleheaders.

New Jersey played well early, building a 35-26 lead with 7:40 left in the second period. But the Pacers put together one of their best defensive stretches of the season, holding the Nets to two-of-16 shooting while forcing seven turnovers for a span of nearly 12 minutes. That fueled a 36-12 run that turned the game completely around, giving Indiana a 62-47 lead. They maintained a comfortable cushion until midway through the fourth period, when the Nets scored eight in a row to cut the lead to 85-79, beginning a rally that ended when Miller hit a jumper with 1:16 remaining to make it 96-90, then added four free throws in the final 40 seconds.

The Pacers shot .472 overall and outrebounded the Nets 40-37. O'Neal's season-high 29 points led the way; he also had nine rebounds, three assists, five steals and three blocked shots. Miller scored 16. Al Harrington had 14 points and 11 rebounds off the bench. Jonathan Bender played a career-high 30 minutes and performed well with 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots. Rose scored 10 but was four of 14 from the field, adding six rebounds and five assists. The Nets shot .439 overall but were outscored 30-16 from the free throw line. Keith Van Horn had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Aaron Williams had 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench. Kidd scored 15 but had just five assists. Lucious Harris scored 13 off the bench and Kenyon Martin had 10 points.

Thomas has been raving about Bender's practice performances of late and said before the game that his role was on the verge of expanding. Bender, who had played a total of 27 minutes with two DNPs in the last five games, was in for a career-high 30 minutes and beyond his respectable stat line (11 points, three rebounds, three assists, two blocks) exhibited strong decision-making and excellent movement without the ball. He also played well enough, defensively, to stay in the game during two critical periods, playing 23 of 24 minutes in the second and fourth periods.

Reggie Miller passed Larry Bird (21,791) to move into 19th place on the NBA's career scoring list with a layup with 1:59 left in the second period. An announcement was made and the crowd gave Miller, who was fouled by Todd MacCulloch, an ovation that he acknowledged with a quick wave. Clyde Drexler (22,195) is 18th on the list, 394 ahead of Miller (21,801). ... The Pacers are 9-3 when Rose has at least five assists. ... The Pacers held an opponent to fewer than 100 points for the first time in six games.