O'Neal Makes Sure Pacers Celebrate Reggie's Return

by Jeff Tzucker
by Conrad Brunner

November 26, 2002

Washington, D.C., November 26, 2002 - Mr. Inside welcomed back Mr. Outside on Tuesday night, and Jermaine O'Neal and Reggie Miller played like they'd never been apart.

O'Neal had the first 20-20 game of his career with 26 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, and Miller came off the injured list to score 13 points and make several clutch baskets in his first game of the season as the Pacers held off a furious comeback to beat the Wizards in Washington 88-84 on Tuesday night in MCI Center.

"He was great from start to finish in all areas of the game - defense, rebounding, scoring," said coach Isiah Thomas of O'Neal. "He was a man underneath tonight."

Miller, who had missed the first 12 games of the season with a bone bruise in his right ankle, picked his spot for the comeback.

"I'm very superstitious, and the guys were playing fantastic," he said. "I probably could've come back three or four games ago but the guys had a good streak going and I wasn't about to mess it up. ... Michael Jordan came back against me a few years ago (1994) so I figured I'd come back against him."

The victory raised the Pacers' record to 11-2, best in the Eastern Conference, and matched the best 13-game mark in franchise history last accomplished in the 1969-70 ABA season. Washington lost its fourth consecutive game to drop to 6-8.

The visitors appeared to be cruising to a blowout when they they built a 61-42 lead in the third period, but Washington's second unit completely outplayed their Pacers' counterparts to begin a flurry of counterpunches that left Indiana on the ropes. With Jordan and rookie Juan Dixon providing most of the impetus, the Wizards outscored the Pacers 26-8 to cut the lead to 71-70 with 4:53 left in the game.

Here, Miller stepped in, drilling a momentum-killing 3-pointer - his third of the game - then making a pair of free throws to put the Pacers up 76-70.

"Every big shot, every momentum shot that needed to be made, he made," said Thomas. "If he was not playing tonight, we probably don't win this game."

Washington cut the lead to 77-76 on a pair of free throws by Etan Thomas with 2:43 left but would get no closer as Brad Miller contributed four consecutive points on a pair of free throws and a jumper from the line to quell that final threat.

It was the fifth time this season the Pacers have allowed a double-digit second-half lead to dwindle and the culprit on this occasion was clear. Washington enjoyed a 40-3 advantage in bench scoring in the second half. Overall, the Pacers' second unit was outscored 55-19 for the second game in a row.

"We found a way in this game to tough it out and get a win at the end," said O'Neal. "Everybody's got to be ready to play. We win as a team and the guys coming in off the bench have to be prepared."

Ron Artest added 13 points and Jamaal Tinsley 10 assists for the Pacers. Jordan led Washington with 28 points. Dixon had 15 points, six steals, five rebounds and four assists in just 24 minutes off the bench. Brendan Haywood scored 11. Leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse never got untracked and finished with just six points on 2-of-16 shooting.

NOTEWORTHY: With Erick Strickland and Jamison Brewer both on the injured list, the Pacers are without a true backup point guard. Ron Mercer handled those minutes against Washington. ... After the Wizards lost their third in a row to Memphis on Saturday night, Jordan threatened to step into an increased role if the younger players didn't improve. He wasn't kidding, entering the game within the first three minutes while the Wizards were on their way to a 10-0 deficit. ... Wizards forward Kwame Brown was knocked out of the game briefly in the first half after taking an inadvertent O'Neal elbow to the face. ... Stackhouse has gone 6-of-35 from the field (.171) in the last two games. ... Regular starting point guard Larry Hughes did not play for the Wizards due to a wrist injury. ... First-round pick Jared Jeffries of Indiana University had a solid game for the Wizards with six points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals on 24 minutes.