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Pacers playoffs preview
Compiled by Mark Montieth
April 16, 2004
It's deceiving to compare guard play because Boston's leading scorer, Paul Pierce, won't be defended by a guard most of the time. Ron Artest will get that privilege, renewing their intense relationship from last season's first-round series. Pierce is one of the toughest matchups for Artest. He averaged 25.8 points against the Pacers in last year's series, and 20.5 points against them during the regular season. He sometimes places quantity ahead of quality in his shot selection. He hit just .402 from the field during the regular season, .299 from 3-point range.
Jamaal Tinsley should have a slight advantage over Chucky Atkins at point guard. Tinsley is the better passer and shoots better from 3-point range. Atkins, though, provided a major boost after coming over from Detroit in a midseason trade and brings a steady presence. Forward Jiri Welsch (9.2 points) isn't one of the Celtics' primary offensive threats, making him a suitable matchup for Reggie Miller. But can Miller regain his playoff magic? He averaged 9.2 points on 28 percent shooting last year on two bad ankles. Rick Carlisle has kept Miller's minutes down all season to save him for this moment.
A year ago, the Celtics started Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty and Tony Battie across their front line. McCarty is the only holdover from that group and his scoring average (7.9) indicates he's not exactly a go-to guy. Still, he's a capable 3-point threat (.374).
Center Mark Blount wasn't much of a factor in last year's series but has blossomed with increased playing time. He's a better scoring threat than Jeff Foster, and about an equal rebounder.
The Celtics, however, don't appear to have many answers for Jermaine O'Neal or Artest. They won't want Pierce to expend too much energy defensively but have nobody else to deal with Artest's strength and quickness. They'll probably double-team O'Neal, making it imperative for the Pacers to move the ball quickly.
Both teams have a primary contributor who could start in some other places. Al Harrington is the Pacers' third-leading scorer (13.3). Ricky Davis is Boston's second-leading scorer, and one of its primary perimeter threats. Neither, however, has established himself as a dependable playoff contributor.
Beyond those two players, the Pacers have vastly superior depth, with capable backups at every position. Boston, meanwhile, will be burdened by a severe shortage of postseason experience.
The Pacers' primary X-factor off the bench will be Fred Jones, who will get significant minutes as Miller's backup. Jones was not on the active roster for last year's series, and will be getting his first sniff of postseason play. He'll probably get some quality time against Pierce when Artest is out of the game.
The Celtics are in a severe rebuilding mode. Only three players return from last year's playoff team, so it's no wonder they're still working out their chemistry.
They've made a flurry of moves to set themselves up for the offseason, not the playoffs. In fact, team president Danny Ainge wasn't particularly enthusiastic about even making the playoffs, preferring a shot at a high draft pick.
The Pacers, meanwhile, should be primed for this moment after losing in the opening round the past three years. The memory of last season's series loss to Boston should prevent any assumptions based on record, and provides a source of motivation.
The Pacers are deeper, healthier and should be hungrier. All that remains for them is to stay relaxed enough to unleash all of their advantages.
Boston coach John Carroll is working on an interim basis, having taken over after Jim O'Brien walked off the job in January. He's done a credible job under difficult circumstances, but he's yet to call a timeout in the postseason.
The Pacers' Rick Carlisle has an incomparable track record by comparison. He's won a division title in each of his first three seasons as a head coach and directed Detroit to the Eastern Conference finals last season. He also had a key coaching role in the Pacers' playoff success as an assistant to Larry Bird.
Don't forget the assistant coaches, either. The Pacers' Mike Brown was part of San Antonio's championship coaching staff last season, and Ron Rothstein has extensive playoff experience. Boston will miss the presence of Dick Harter, who left with O'Brien.
At Conseco Fieldhouse: Vin Baker hit a fallaway jumper with 20 seconds left to hand the Pacers a loss and drop them to 6-2 on the way to a 14-2 start. Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal blasted the officiating crew after the game for three offensive fouls called on him. O'Neal had 21 points and nine rebounds in the first half as the Pacers built a 48-34 lead. He had only four points and two rebounds in the second half while sitting out due to foul trouble. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was whistled for a technical while arguing a call in the first quarter.
Pacers 103, Celtics 90
At the FleetCenter: Ron Artest scored a game-high 28 points and tightened the defensive screws on Paul Pierce as the Pacers matched their highest point total of the season to date. Artest limited Pierce to 18 points in 29 minutes and had five steals. Reggie Miller keyed a 13-0 Pacers run in the fourth quarter with three 3-pointers. Jermaine O'Neal had 21 points and 13 rebounds and Al Harrington added 17 and 10 off the bench for the Pacers, who trailed by 15 in the first half. The victory was the third in a row in a stretch in which the Pacers won 12 of 13 games.
Pacers 99, Celtics 98
At Conseco Fieldhouse: Ron Artest had another strong all-around game against the Celtics. Artest had 23 points and five steals and made a key defensive play that kept Paul Pierce from getting a shot on the Celtics' final possession. Jermaine O'Neal left the game in the second quarter with a neck strain, but Al Harrington scored a game-high 27 points. The Pacers led 43-32 after the first quarter, two points shy of the franchise record for points in a quarter. Pierce finished with 24 points and Ricky Davis added 21 on 9-for-14 shooting for the Celtics.
Pacers 99, Celtics 81
At the FleetCenter: Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender scored 16 points each to lead a strong bench effort as the Pacers rested their starters. The Pacers' reserves outscored their Boston counterparts 49-35 as no Pacers starter played more than 30 minutes. Reggie Miller had 18 points in 19 minutes while Jamaal Tinsley and Ron Artest added 10 each. Boston's Paul Pierce scored 21 points to reach 10,000 career points in 431 games, five games faster than Larry Bird.
The Pacers are the No. 1 seed in the East; the Celtics are No. 8. Here is a look at their season statistics:
Field goal shooting
Free throw shooting
Why do the things that we treasure most, slip away in time
Till to the music we grow deaf, to God's beauty blind
Why do the things that connect us slowly pull us apart?
Till we fall away in our own darkness, a stranger to our own hearts
And life itself, rushing over me
Life itself, the wind in black elms,
Life itself in your heart and in your eyes, I can't make it without you