O'Neal Dominates as Pacers Move Into Three-Way Tie

by Conrad Brunner

April 16, 2002

STAR OF THE GAME

JERMAINE O'NEAL
The guy just loves Cleveland. Scoring at least 30 points for the third consecutive trip into Gund Arena, O'Neal continued his stretch-run dominance with 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting. He also hit 12-of-16 from the line. In nine games since his suspension, O'Neal has averaged 24.8 points.
UNSUNG HERO

RON ARTEST
Not only making a major contribution to the defensive effort that limited Ricky Davis to one basket in 31 minutes, Artest also came up with several big plays, including a critical offensive rebound basket that put the Pacers up 95-92 with 26.6 seconds remaining. He finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds, his second career double-double, both since joining the Pacers in February.
QUOTEBOOK

JERMAINE O'NEAL
"Every time we win a game, the next game is just as big. If we can put together four or five straight wins to end the regular season going into the playoffs, if we get in, I really think we can make things happen in the playoffs. We've just got to stay focused, stay positive and continue to work hard."
STAT OF THE GAME
In his last three games in Cleveland, O'Neal has averaged 34.0 points, shot .625 from the field (40-of-64) and .815 from the line (22-of-27).
HIDDEN NUMBERS
Points off turnovers: Cavs 15, Pacers 13
Points in the paint: Cavs 34, Pacers 32
Second-chance points: Pacers 16, Cavs 12
Fast-break points: Cavs 15, Pacers 13
Starters scoring: Pacers 94, Cavs 65
Bench scoring: Cavs 30, Pacers 5
99
95
April 16, 2002
Gund Arena, Cleveland
END RESULT
The race will reach the finish line. Whether the Pacers win it remains to be seen, but they will at least enter the final game of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs. Jermaine O'Neal continued to torture Cleveland, scoring 34 points to lead the Pacers to a hard-fought 99-95 victory over the Cavs on Tuesday night in Gund Arena to set up a final-game showdown with Philadelphia.

WHAT IT MEANS
The Pacers' fourth consecutive win tied the season-high streak, pushed their record above .500 at 41-40 for the first time since March 24 (35-34) and assured the team of a non-losing season. It also created a three-way tie for the final two playoff spots in the East. If they beat Philadelphia in Conseco Fieldhouse and either Toronto (at home against Cleveland) or Milwaukee (on the road at Detroit) loses on Wednesday night, the Pacers will qualify for the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year and 12th in the last 13. If the Pacers lose, regardless of what happens to the Bucks or Raptors, they will be in the lottery. Cleveland lost its third in a row to fall to 29-52 overall. The teams split the four-game season series.

UP NEXT
The regular-season concludes with a playoff-like game on Wednesday night at home against Philadelphia (43-38), which needs a victory to hang onto fifth place in the East, but has several key players injured, including Allen Iverson.

TURNING POINT
Whenever a big play was needed, Artest was there. The Pacers built a 71-54 lead late in the third period but the Cavs staged a 19-5 run to cut the lead to 76-73 early in the fourth. O'Neal missed a short jumper on the Pacers' next possession, giving the Cavs a possession that could tie the game and extend the momentum, but Artest stole the rebound from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, then drove right at the 7-3 center for a basket and a foul, converting the three-point play for a 79-73 lead. After the Cavs cut it to 85-84, Artest drew the sixth foul on Jumaine Jones and made a pair of free throws to quell that threat. The lead was 89-86 when Artest reached in and kept an offensive rebound alive, setting up O'Neal's jumper that made it 91-86. Then, with the Pacers clinging to a 93-92 lead in the final minute, Artest ripped an offensive rebound from the arms of Wesley Person and banked in the putback to make it 95-92. On Cleveland's next possession, Ricky Davis tried to drive on Artest but ran right into Jeff Foster, who came up with the steal, and that was that.

INSIDE THE BOX SCORE
Though O'Neal's 34 points stole the show, there was plenty of support. Artest had 19 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. Reggie Miller scored 15. Jamaal Tinsley had 13 points and 14 assists for his first double-double in more than a month, adding three steals. And Brad Miller had 13 points and eight rebounds. The Pacers shot just .427 from the field but made 32-of-43 free throws. Cleveland overcame a horrendous shooting first half (.350) to wind up at .434. Andre Miller had a near triple-double with 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. Ilgauskas had 20 points in 27 minutes. Wesley Person scored 13 but was 5-of-14 from the field. Brian Skinner provided an unexpected lift off the bench with 10 points, hitting all five of his shots.

STRATEGY/PERSONNEL
With every game a must-win, the second unit continued to be on a short leash and the chain was yanked quickly in both halves. The reserves let a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter shrink to one early in the second, so coach Isiah Thomas brought back most of the starters and the Pacers went on a 17-1 run to open a 46-29 lead. During that span, the Cavs missed eight consecutive shots. The home team cut it to 12 at the half but a 10-3 run by the Pacers in the middle minutes of the third spread it to 71-54, and it looked like Thomas would be able to give his starters some rest heading into the back-to-back game with the Sixers. But Cleveland closed the third on a 12-2 run, then scored seven quick points early in the fourth and there would be no rest thereafter for the first unit. O'Neal picked up his fifth foul with 7:11 remaining and the Pacers ahead 82-78. Thomas took no chances and sat him down for three minutes, employing a small lineup with Ron Mercer coming off the bench. O'Neal returned with 4:16 remaining and promptly scored the Pacers' next three baskets; they had failed to convert one while he was on the bench. Thomas inserted Jeff Foster for defensive purposes in the final minute, and he came up with the key steal against Davis to close the door on the Cavs.

NOTEWORTHY
Davis, who had scored 52 points and made 19-of-25 shots in the Cavs' two consecutive victories over the Pacers, was held to just six on 1-of-8 shooting. His only basket, a dunk, came with 9:05 left in the game, and would turn out to be his final field goal attempt. ... Austin Croshere did not play for the fourth time in the last eight games. ... Mercer played 21 minutes but missed all seven of his shots as the Pacers produced just five bench points. The reserves were a combined 2-of-14 from the field.. ... Tyrone Hill, who had pulled 34 rebounds in two games against the Pacers, had just three in 24 minutes. ... Jones fouled out in just nine minutes. ... Andre Miller averaged 20.0 points, 7.7 assists and 7.5 rebounds in four games against the Pacers. ... The Cavs' leading scorer, Lamond Murray, averaged 9.5 points against Indiana, slightly more than half his season average.