CELTICS CLINCH EIGHTH SEED
Pacers Get Boston Rematch
By John Clayton
Indianapolis, April 11, 2004
Jermaine O’Neal considered his team’s immediate future with the Boston Celtics and quickly determined it best to put the recent past to rest.
“That’s in the past. I’m not talking about it,” said O’Neal of his team’s 4-2 opening-round series loss to the Celtics a year ago. “We’re not focusing on who we’re playing, we’re focusing on what we’ve got to do – play good offense, good defense and not worry about the matchups with anybody.”
O’Neal and his Pacers teammates knew early Sunday afternoon they would be facing Boston in the opening round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs, which begin this weekend, for the second straight year. Dates and times are still to be determined. Boston secured the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference thanks to Philadelphia’s loss at New Jersey early Sunday. The Pacers will face the 76ers in Philadelphia Monday night.
Last year, the sixth-seeded Celtics eliminated the third-seeded Pacers with a 110-90 victory in Game 6 at Boston’s Fleet Center. This season, the Pacers have gotten the better of what has become an Eastern Conference rival in the Celtics, taking the season series 3-1. Two of those games, including a 78-76 loss at Conseco Fieldhouse on Nov. 11, were decided by a total of three points. The Pacers defeated Boston 99-98 at the Fieldhouse on Jan. 31 and won handily 103-90 and 99-81 at Fleet Center.
Coach Rick Carlisle said there is reason to be wary of the Celtics, despite the fact that they underwent two major trades that reshaped their roster, and changed coaches in midstream when John Carroll replaced Jim O’Brien.
“They’ll be a very tough opponent,” said Carlisle. “Any team that has Paul Pierce will be tough to play. Not only that, Chucky Atkins is a proven playoff player. They’ve got a lot of guys who can score the ball, so it’ll be a tough series. But we knew whoever we played, it was going to be tough. We’re going to have to do some work this week to get ready for that.”
The Pacers have two games remaining in the regular season – at Philadelphia and at home against Chicago in the season finale Wednesday. Carlisle said the Pacers will use those two games and a couple of days of preparation to try and sharpen their game. The fact that the team ran several suicide wind sprints at the end of practice on Easter Sunday could be one indication of how serious Carlisle sees the task at hand.
“We’ve got to keep an edge,” he said. “We’ve won three in a row now and I think it’s important that we continue to be a team that’s looking for more – a team that’s looking to get better and win more games and stay hungry. If we do that, we’ve got to do things hard at practice. We’ve got to run a few sprints. We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a level of awareness and concentration at a fever pitch.”