Pacers Accept Artest’s Suspension without Protest

by Conrad Brunner

April 19, 2004

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Pacers Accept Artest's
Suspension without Protest

Indianapolis, April 19, 2004

The Pacers may not like the fact Ron Artest was suspended one game by the NBA on Monday, but they offered no protest and made no excuses upon learning of the news.

“The suspension is a rule,” said Artest, “and the NBA has rules we have to abide by.”

Artest will miss Game 2 of the first-round series against Boston on Tuesday night in Conseco Fieldhouse. Al Harrington will start in his place. He was punished “for leaving the immediate vicinity of the bench during an altercation,” during the second quarter of Game 1 on Saturday, said the announcement from the office of Stu Jackson, NBA Senior Vice President for Basketball Operations. A few hours after announcing the suspension, the league honored Artest with its Defensive Player of the Year award.

Coach Rick Carlisle said he was neither angry nor surprised.

“I expected this,” he said. “The truth is, we have no one to blame but ourselves as a team. There were four coaches that could’ve grabbed Ron, there were seven guys in uniform that could’ve grabbed him. He could’ve showed ultimate restraint and not gone out there but it just didn’t happen. We’ve put ourselves in this position and obviously it’s going to make it tougher for Game 2. But we’ve had a team that all year long has had guys step forward when we’ve been missing personnel and tomorrow’s going to have to be the same kind of situation. We need guys to not only play well, but exceptionally well.”

The incident occurred with 8:01 left in the second quarter. Jermaine O’Neal responded angrily to being thrown to the floor by Boston reserve Brandon Hunter, drawing a technical foul in the process. Artest took a few steps off the bench toward the scene before reversing course and heading back to his seat.

Though Artest did not become involved in the incident, he did violate the letter of the law.

“The rule is the rule,” said Reggie Miller. “We accept and take responsibility for what happened. You live with it. Hopefully, it can be a rallying cry for the rest of the ballclub. Now is no time for us to hang our head. We’ve got to collectively come together as a group and focus in and try to do the best we can on the defensive end. They have very talented shooting guards and small forwards that can really put points on the board. And when you don’t have your Defensive Player of the Year out there, it’s going to be really challenging for your ballclub.”

The Pacers have gone 7-2 in games Artest has missed this season and 12-3 when Harrington starts. With Harrington in the lineup, it’s likely Jonathan Bender andAustin Croshere will assume bigger roles off the bench. Artest was the primary defender on Paul Pierce in Game 1 when the Boston star was 5 of 18 from the field. Miller, Fred Jones and Bender likely will share greater defensive responsibility for Game 2.

“I’m going to have to step up, play more minutes, be a little more aggressive on the offensive end and I’ve got a tough assignment guarding P. Pierce,” said Harrington. “I think the whole team is ready. We’ve been here before.”

Carlisle pointed out that the job of guarding Pierce doesn’t fall on one player, but rather to the entire team.

“It certainly changes the game somewhat, but we’re not going to completely reinvent how we play because we’re missing one player for one game,” he said. “You can’t do that. It’s going to be a team responsibility to try to deal with Paul Pierce. It never falls on the shoulders of one guy. Our team defense has got to be geared toward making it tough on him on the one hand, and on the other hand trying to make it so he can’t get great shots for his teammates because they have a lot of guys who can stand out there and knock down threes.”

The suspension could have a positive effect. Any chance of the Pacers suffering a mental letdown after cruising to a 104-88 victory in the opener has been eliminated.

“Now, we feel like we’re undermanned,” said Harrington, “so everybody’s going to come together and play that much harder.”