by Conrad Brunner
March 26, 2002
INDIANAPOLIS, March 26, 2002 - A bad loss got much worse for the Pacers when Jermaine O'Neal lost his temper in the closing minutes, prompting a brawl that could result in a two-game suspension for the Pacers' leading scorer and one-game suspensions for some of his teammates.
With Detroit leading by 22 points in the final two minutes of a game the Pistons would win 96-77, O'Neal threw a flying body-block into a driving Corliss Williamson, knocking the burly Pistons forward out of bounds. Williamson responded by flipping the ball at O'Neal and the two then squared off and exchanged angry words.
Pistons forward Ben Wallace stepped between the two to separate them, but O'Neal then lashed out at Wallace; whether it was a shove or a punch will be subject to the interpretation of league officials. What was more clear was the short punch O'Neal subsequently threw to the face of Detroit forward Michael Curry, who simply backed away.
O'Neal was not available for comment afterwards.
"For the players involved and for all of us, the emotions just spilled over," Thomas said. "I was surprised because that's something he (O'Neal) hasn't shown. We haven't seen that. I just think he was frustrated."
Pistons coach Rick Carlisle didn't mince words when asked his opinion of the altercation, calling O'Neal's initial flagrant foul "one of the worst cheap shots I've seen this year."
"I’m proud to be associated with these guys. We do not play dirty. We do not throw cheap shots and I did not see us throw any tonight," he said. "I can’t speak for Jermaine O’Neal, or his motivation, but that was one of the worst cheap shots I’ve seen this season."
Williamson claimed the ball "slipped out of my hands," but other Pistons players expressed their anger with O'Neal.
"He (O’Neal) has got some issues," said Jerry Stackhouse. "The kid has some issues. ... What are you going to do? The guy (Williamson) was killing him. It’s their fault. They should have double-teamed him. They should get mad at their coach. They talk about (Ron) Artest being a great defensive player. Well, he had 10 big ones in his face real quick. They do a lot talking for a .500 team.”
Williamson scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Pistons blew open the game after the Pacers had cut the lead to four early in the period. O'Neal, who has been in a shooting slump of late, was 5-of-14 from the floor.
He received a type-two flagrant foul and an ejection for the initial hit on Williamson. If the league concludes he threw a punch, O'Neal will automatically be suspended for at least two games. In addition, four players - Artest, Jonathan Bender, Primoz Brezec and Bruno Sundov - appeared to leave the bench area, which would bring an automatic one-game suspension.
The Pacers, 35-35 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, resume play in Orlando on Friday night, then return home to face Miami on Sunday.