Lineup Changes Possible For Game 5
PACERS at NEW JERSEY
Tuesday, May 2
7:00 p.m., Continental Airlines Arena
TV: WB4, NBATV RADIO: WIBC-1070 AM
By Conrad Brunner
A bit of a shakeup may be on the way, albeit not entirely by choice.
With Peja Stojakovic not expected to play in Game 5 of the best-of-seven first-round NBA Playoff series Tuesday night in New Jersey and minor ailments befalling Jermaine O'Neal and Jeff Foster Monday, Coach Rick Carlisle may have little option but to make changes to the starting lineup.
Danny Granger started Game 2 in Stojakovic's absence, with Fred Jones starting Game 4. Granger appeared more comfortable with the first unit, plus his size offers better defensive matchups around the perimeter. Jones scored just three points in his lone start. Carlisle wouldn't Monday who would fill in but it was increasingly clear someone other than Stojakovic will start at small forward.
"Probably, I won't be available," Stojakovic said. "My knee is still hurting, it's swollen. Hopefully it'll get better. … Every injury is difficult, especially this one. It came at a bad moment, a most important moment. I just have to deal with that and hopefully get better soon."
O'Neal also missed Monday's practice with flu-like symptoms while Foster left early with back pain. Though O'Neal is expected to play, Foster's status appears less certain. He has struggled to produce in the series, averaging just 4.5 points and 4.8 rebounds, and the Nets frequently leave him unguarded, freeing up an extra defender to devote to O'Neal.
Austin Croshere played 40 minutes in Game 4, scoring 15 points, and his shooting range could help create the needed space for O'Neal inside – particularly in the absence of Stojakovic, whose ailing right knee also threatens his status for Game 6 Thursday in Conseco Fieldhouse.
"Cro has played well and when he's in there it gives us a different dimension, offensively," said Carlisle. "Whether he starts or doesn't start he's going to be an important guy in the series."
Carlisle turned to Croshere once before in the postseason, giving him a surprise start in Game 4 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals with the Pacers trailing Detroit 2-1. Indiana won that game 83-68 but lost the next two.
"Lineup changes are always a possibility in the playoffs," said Carlisle, "but it's not going to matter if we keep turning the ball over and getting in foul trouble."
The Pacers have lost both games Stojakovic missed but the bigger concern Monday was finding a way to avoid the mistakes that have plagued them in defeat. Aside from Game 3, O'Neal has spent the series in foul trouble; the bulk of his 19 turnovers have come on offensive fouls. The Pacers have committed 72 turnovers in the series – fully 33 more than the Nets – including 23 in Game 4.
"So many times in this series with Peja being out, with Stephen (Jackson) or Jermaine in foul trouble, we've gone with lineups that we've really used for the first time so we're kind of out there doing things for the first time," said Croshere. "It's important that everybody is out there doing everything really hard. They've shown their success in the series is when they get up and pressure us and try to get us to turn the ball over.
"Obviously, when we have lineups we're not as accustomed to playing with, chances are we're going to turn the ball over more. We don't what Peja's situation is. I assume Jermaine's going to play his normal minutes. So we've got to do everything that much sharper, realizing our turnovers has been a real key for them."
Though the Pacers had a golden opportunity to seize firm control of the series with a victory in Game 4, their 97-88 loss returned homecourt advantage to the Nets. Now, Indiana must win at least once more in Continental Airlines Arena to take the series. They did it last year as the sixth seed in the first round against the third-seeded Celtics, winning Games 5 and 7 in TD Banknorth Garden.
"We're not down. We're tied," said Jackson. "I don't think anybody on this team's upset. We're upset we let (Game 4) get away from us but everybody's attitude and focus is on winning this series because everybody still thinks we can."