O'Neal Returns, but Harrington Injures Knee

by Conrad Brunner

January 23, 2002

BOSTON, January 23, 2002 - One key player returned from a knee injury, but another was lost in the Pacers' 98-94 defeat at the hands of the Celtics.

After missing the last four games with a hyperextended left knee, Jermaine O'Neal came back one game earlier than expected and produced 19 points and 12 rebounds in 34 strong minutes.

The second-unit lost its leading scorer, however, when Al Harrington left the game with 8:42 remaining after twisting his right knee while going around a pick set by Boston's Tony Battie. Harrington crumpled to the floor grasping the knee and showing obvious pain in his face and was carried off the floor to the locker room.

The initial diagnosis was a severely sprained right knee. Harrington will be re-examined upon the team's return to Indianapolis on Thursday.

A prime candidate for both the Most Improved Player and Sixth Man awards, Harrington is averaging 13.1 points and 6.3 rebounds, leading the Pacers' reserves in both categories. He had seven points and five rebounds in 31 minutes against the Celtics.

O'Neal, who had said on Tuesday that he planned to return for either of two weekend home games, Friday against Charlotte or Saturday against Seattle, changed his mind and donned his uniform for this matchup with one of the East's top teams.

"I wanted to give it a try," O'Neal said. "I did OK. I just wasn't good enough to help my team win today. At first, I felt close to normal but, as the game progressed, my leg got weaker. But once you decide to lace them up, there are no excuses after that."