O'Neal Leads Charge as Pacers Rally for Win

by Conrad Brunner

October 23, 2002

Denver, October 23, 2002 - Jermaine O'Neal scored all 15 of his points in the second half to rally the Pacers past the Denver Nuggets 96-89 in a preseason game marked by an altercation and another Indiana injury.

The Pacers trailed 55-46 after a listless first half, but came out strong in the third period with a 13-0 run to take a 59-55 lead. The game remained close until the closing minutes of the fourth period when the Pacers put together a 10-3 run to open a 93-81 lead.

Indiana (5-2) pulled out the game despite going 6-of-18 from the field and committing nine turnovers in the fourth period. The Pacers compensated by outrebounding Denver 18-6 and making nine-of-10 free throws.

"We did not come out playing," said O'Neal. "We had a lot of guys sucking air from the altitude. The second half we got it together and pulled it through."

In the midst of that game-closing run, O'Neal and Denver forward Juwan Howard were ejected with 4:56 remaining for their roles in an altercation. O'Neal was interceding after Howard and Al Harrington became entangled in a loose-ball grapple. Howard threw punches at Harrington and O'Neal.

O'Neal needed two stitches to close a gash under his left eye caused by an errant elbow from Denver's Nene Hilario earlier in the game.

"Juwan was just being upset," O'Neal said. "He could not check me, he never could check me. He was just crazy. He slapped me on the neck. That is basketball, there are no hard feelings and we will just handle it on the court."

Coach Isiah Thomas said his team has to be prepared for physical challenges from opponents.

"The rough play is a situation we have to face," he said. "We are trying to carve out some turf. We have to be smart and play basketball and not fight. We drill on this situation. We talk about five guys on the floor taking care of it, and the other guys staying on the bench. Jermaine did not throw a punch. He took a couple, but he was smart."

Already without starters Reggie Miller (ankle) and Ron Artest (finger) as well as backup Austin Croshere (foot), the Pacers lost point guard Jamaal Tinsley to a sprained left ankle in the third period. His status for Friday's preseason finale in Minnesota is questionable. Miller is doubtful. Artest and Croshere are out. O'Neal, who has an ankle sprain as well as the cheek laceration, is probable.

Ron Mercer was the high scorer for the Pacers with 17 points. O'Neal had 15, Harrington 13, Jonathan Bender and Erick Strickland 12 each, and Brad Miller 10. Miller also had eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals. The Pacers shot .403 and committed 26 turnovers but outrebounded the Nuggets 47-33.

Denver (1-6) was led by James Posey with 23 points. Kenny Satterfield scored 14 while Hilario and Chris Andersen each scored 13. The Nuggets committed 25 turnovers and had just 16 assists.