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Celtics roll over in 4th quarter against charged-up Indiana reserves
By Shira Springer, Globe Staff | April 21, 2004
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ron Artest watched Game 2 of this series from an undisclosed location, banned from Conseco Fieldhouse because of a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation in Game 1. The four Pacers who usually start alongside Artest watched most of the fourth quarter from the bench, sidelined in favor of more-than-capable reserves with almost unstoppable offensive momentum. Artest or no Artest, starters or no starters, the Pacers outmanned and eventually outplayed the Celtics last night.
The Celtics suffered an embarrassing fourth-quarter collapse and, in the process, may have squandered their best opportunity at taking a game in this series. Shooting 61 percent in the final quarter, Indiana rode the offensive talents of Fred Jones, Austin Croshere, and Jonathan Bender to a 103-90 victory. Even without Artest as a defensive shadow, Paul Pierce (27 points, 7 rebounds) and his mates proved no match for the talent and toughness of the Pacers. The Celtics head home for Game 3 at the FleetCenter Friday down two games to none.
Asked what happened during the fourth quarter, Chucky Atkins, who never shies away from the increasingly unpleasant truth, said, "It's self-explanatory. We're [expletive] soft. I don't really know what to say. We played so good for three quarters, then when it got to the heart of the game, they just out-toughed us.
"We don't care if Ron Artest plays or he doesn't play. We had an opportunity to win the game. When we just give away a game like that, that [expletive] is terrible. That's ridiculous. Tonight's game, we gave it away.
"It just seemed like [the Pacers] wanted it more than us. They gave the extra effort. They fought harder. They had more intestinal fortitude than us and that's sad because I haven't been on a team like that in a while."
The Pacers entered the fourth quarter behind, 69-65, despite scoring the final 4 points of the third quarter. When Croshere hit a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in the third, he sparked an 18-1 run. Atkins momentarily stopped the bleeding when he went in for a driving layup. But Bender hit a 3-pointer to give Indiana a double-digit lead (82-72) with 7:20 remaining.
While the Celtics squandered a lead that reached 9 points early in the third, the Pacers were not about to do the same. Jones (12 of his 17 points in the fourth), Croshere (6 of his 10), and Bender (9 of his 11) kept piling on the points with a little help from the late return of starters Jermaine O'Neal (22 points, 11 rebounds) and Jamaal Tinsley (15 points, 6 assists).
Al Harrington filled in admirably for Artest, with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
We just wanted to come out and play well and show how deep we are," said O'Neal. "We wanted to get this one for Ron because we knew how bad he wanted to be here. As far as me, I struggled big-time and was not sure that I wanted to go back in the game because Bender, Fred, and Austin were really picking us up. We had good chemistry with that group and I just wasn't sure I could come in and keep that chemistry."
While the Pacers took pride in their depth, interim Celtics coach John Carroll described his team's second-half offense as "horrendous."
The Celtics shot 33 percent in the second half, recording just 5 assists on 9 field goals. They committed 9 turnovers, which resulted in 15 points for the Pacers. They were outscored, 12-6 on the break, 24-8 in the paint and 13-3 in second-chance points. It was a dramatic reversal of fortune from the first half.
"We're not a very mature basketball team, and it showed in the fourth quarter," said Carroll. "And it's a shame because we played a very good basketball game up to that point. Unfortunately, the game is 48 minutes, and to win a playoff game on the road, you've got to finish."
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had talked about holding Boston to around 20 points per quarter. The Celtics scored 22 in the first and 24 in the second. That should have been good news for the Pacers, but they still trailed at the half, 46-41.
The numbers that should have concerned Carlisle were fast-break points and turnovers. Boston outscored Indiana, 19-6, on the break in the first half, dictating the kind of quick pace that benefits the Green. On top of that, the Pacers did not take care of the ball, committing 9 turnovers that resulted in 14 points for the visitors.
Meanwhile, the Celtics improved in all the areas where they needed to most. They moved the ball with greater effectiveness, recording 12 assists on 18 field goals in the first half, shot 45 percent from the floor and did not allow the Pacers to mount a sizable rebounding advantage. But Boston's biggest accomplishment was its consistency in the half.
That was before it unraveled in the second half.
"I guess our team's true colors came out in the [fourth quarter]," said Pierce. "When you're in a tough game, in a tough environment like this one was, in a game of this magnitude, we just didn't have the intestinal fortitude to bounce back from the adversity that we were having."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Depth is a wonderful thing. So, too, is maturity. The Pacers had both last night when it mattered.
The Celtics looked like Justin Rose at Augusta, coming up strong early and then wilting down the stretch. The Pacers turned into Phil Mickelson on the back nine -- making every big shot. Except it was as if Mickelson's caddie were making the big shots.
It was a mind-boggling sight: Indiana starters Jermaine O'Neal, Reggie Miller, Jamaal Tinsley, and Jeff Foster standing and cheering as the subs sliced, diced, and filleted the Celtics with numbing efficiency. O'Neal said after Indiana's 103-90 victory that the reserves were playing so well "it got to the point where I almost didn't want to go back in there because you don't want to mess things up." Eventually he did, but only because Austin Croshere got winded.
That's the humbling truth, sports fans. The Celtics are now in an 0-2 hole in this best-of-seven series and are there because they got overwhelmed in the fourth quarter by Rick Carlisle's reserves.
Paul Pierce lamented that the Celtics' "true colors as a young team" showed in that fourth quarter, the one in which Indiana outscored the Celtics, 38-21, outrebounded them, 13-5, outshot them, 61 percent to 33 percent, and had no turnovers to Boston's two. "We lost our composure," he said.
Here's who was on the floor for Boston when, as Pierce noted, the Celtics' "true colors" showed as a young team: Pierce, Chucky Atkins, Walter McCarty, Ricky Davis, and Mark Blount. That's four-fifths of the starting five. That's not a particularly young team and it's not a particularly inexperienced team. Four of those five have been to the conference finals.
But it was a unit that certainly did lose its composure, no question, in the face of an onslaught led by Fred Jones, Jonathan Bender, Croshere, Anthony Johnson, and Al Harrington. That's one-fifth of the Indy starting five -- and only because Harrington got the starting nod last night over the suspended Ron Artest. Croshere didn't even play in Game 1. All that was missing was injecting Kenny Anderson into the mix.
Pierce got it half-right: The Celtics did lose their composure. But don't start blaming this one on being too young or too inexperienced. Marcus Banks was watching. Jiri Welsch was watching for most of it. Chris Mihm was watching. Bully Brandon Hunter was watching.
Simply, the bottom fell out -- and it fell out while the people John Carroll wants and needs to be out there were out there. And they were embarrassed by the Indiana subs, who knocked down threes, drove to the basket and put the game away by outscoring the Celtics, 18-1, over a stretch of four minutes in the third and fourth quarters.
It fell out because you're starting to see why one of these teams won 61 games and steamrolled through the East and the other struggled to win 36 games and back-doored its way into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed by losing five straight down the stretch. Not to belabor the obvious, but do you think Indiana could start its reserves and still take this thing in five or six games? It sure looks that way. And, oh yes, this is the playoffs. Indiana's up again. Golden State is not coming through that door anytime soon.
Carroll was talking before the game about the absence of Artest, who will be back in full defensive bore Friday night for Game 3 in Boston. Carroll said he was still concerned about the Pacers because they are a deep team that did win 61 games and, although he didn't say it, were 6-2 in the games Artest missed because of injuries or suspension.
"Unfortunately, I was right," Carroll said afterward.
The coach talked about how disappointing it was "to fold like that in the fourth quarter." He talked about the Celtics being a boat with 20 holes and having only 10 plugs. He called his team's second-half offense "horrendous."
And, he said, the team showed its immaturity in the fourth quarter.
That's one way to describe a meltdown. But the truth is more that the Celtics are overmatched -- and that their best players, their most experienced players, were on the floor when the meltdown occurred.
All that means is what we've known for a while: that Danny Ainge has a lot of work to do to get this team to where he wants it to be. And that what he has right now might not be good enough to beat the Pacers' B team. That certainly was the case last night when the game was on the line.
Bird has taken to front-office perch
He is enjoying success and is seen as successor
By Peter May, Globe Staff | April 21, 2004
INDIANAPOLIS -- It's the desk. It really is. There is no more visible manifestation of the transformation of Larry Bird from former player/coach/personnel czar to future omnipotent ruler of the Indiana Pacers. It's huge.
"You could land an airplane on that thing," said current Pacers president Donnie Walsh.
Bird explains that he needed a taller and wider-than-usual desk to accommodate his knees. He notes with pride that the desk was made in Paoli, Ind., which is near his hometown of French Lick. On the desk is an item that one finds it hard to envision being a part of Bird's life: a spiffy laptop with a even spiffier-looking mouse. Can a cellphone be far behind?
"I have one," Bird shrugged, "but I left it in my car."
Welcome to the new world of Bird the executive. If there ever was one NBA player who seemed not destined for a job behind a desk, whatever its size, it would be Bird. But, then again, he fooled us once when he decided to coach -- something he once said he'd never do -- and now he's back as, officially, the Pacers' president of basketball operations.
He's now learning about the business of basketball, the pick-and-rolls -- and flagrant fouls -- of the boardroom. He's going to meetings. He's calling meetings, for goodness sakes. He's overseeing budgets.
"I'm always under budget," he says proudly. There's a shocker.
He attended the Competition Committee meetings, a consortium of general managers and coaches who go over rules. He just returned from the NBA Board of Governors meeting with Walsh, a longtime NBA executive, rubbing elbows with the millionaires and billionaires.
"I wanted to give him an idea of how the league works," Walsh said.
Offered Bird, "It's a good opportunity for me. It's all new. It's all interesting. I like new things."
Make no mistake, Bird's priority is still the product on the floor. And in his first year on the job, he's done a pretty good job, judging by the Pacers' NBA-best 61-21 record. But he didn't come back to the Pacers solely to run the basketball operation. At some point, Walsh, who has been here 20 years in many capacities, will step down. The plan is for Bird to take his place.
"In the job he's in," said Walsh, "you've got to be here, do a lot of planning. For his future, it's important to understand how the franchise works, financially, in every way. As a result, that requires that you're in here a lot and becoming aware of all the issues, not just the basketball issues, but the business issues, too. When the time comes for him to make the decisions he is going to have to make, he's going to know the whole inner workings of the franchise. That's the plan -- to replace me."
Bird knows that, but it's not something he scripted. If he had his druthers, he'd be in Charlotte now, preparing for the first season of the expansion team known as the Bobcats. But that opportunity was denied him -- he still his scars from that one -- and he ended up here, back in a zone with even more comfort than Boston.
"When I got out, I was staying out," he said. "It was Dave Gavitt who convinced me that I needed to stay in the game, that it would be good for the game and good for me. And I had to have something to do."
He and Walsh coexist seamlessly. Walsh gladly ceded the basketball duties to Bird, although his office is next door to The One With The Desk and Bird enthusiastically bounces thoughts off the former general manager. This week, for instance, Bird was salivating over some unnamed draft prospect who scored a lot of points -- always a big plus for No. 33.
Eventually, basketball will be only a part of the job description. Bird will need to know about broadcast rights and signage and all the other silly stuff that has turned the NBA from a basketball league into a marketing showcase. Walsh made it clear that he is more than happy with the choice of his successor and is confident Bird will be more than up to the task.
"You know, when you ask him for an opinion, it always surprises me that he's more informed than he should be," Walsh said. "I think he must be doing his own investigations. I like the way he looks at things, which is on a very straight line, concise and clear. And I think that really helps you as an executive. A lot of people can be all around the issue and not see the main issue. He sees the main issue right away. And that's what you expect out of somebody at this level."
With power in reserve, Pacers are lighting it up
Pacers' backups spark big fourth-quarter run
By Hank Lowenkron, Globe Correspondent | April 21, 2004
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indiana bench made it 2 for 2 in this Eastern Conference playoff series with Boston, sparking the Pacers past the Celtics, 103-90, last night.
With Ron Artest suspended by the NBA for leaving the bench in Game 1 Saturday, Al Harrington moved off the bench and started.
Still, the bench didn't miss a beat as it outscored the Celtics' reserves, 43-11.
Boston was leading, 69-61, with 30 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Austin Croshere, who didn't play a second in Game 1, ignited an 18-1 run that sent the Pacers to Boston for Game 3 Friday night with a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Croshere cut the deficit to 69-65 by making a free throw and a 3-pointer before the end of the period.
Croshere (10 points) tied the score at 69 with a fast-break basket as the Pacers opened the final quarter with 7 consecutive points.
Reserves scored all the points in the big run, with guard Fred Jones recording 12 of his 17 points in the final quarter and 7-footer Jonathan Bender scoring 9 of his 11 points.
They were among six Pacers to finish in double figures. Jermaine O'Neal led the way with 22 points and had a game-high 11 rebounds. Jamaal Tinsley had 15 points and 6 assists, while Harrington had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"We came in and really picked up the energy," said Croshere, whose willingness to work without worrying about his minutes all season was a big reason Indiana finished the season with a league-best 61-21 record. "We made a big point of limiting their fast-break opportunities, forcing them into shots they didn't want to take.
"Al and Jonathan did a great job of hitting the boards. Our energy was that much higher than them in that run."
Croshere isn't surprised by the reserves' success in the first two games.
"A big part of our team all year has been our second unit," he said. "For guys like us who don't get an opportunity to play big minutes in the fourth quarter on a night-in and night-out basis, it is something you really take a lot of pride in when you have the chance."
Croshere said his role on the team is "just a matter of being professional and being ready. If you're the 10th man on the team, that's my role and I have to perform the best I can."
Reggie Miller cited Croshere for his contributions all season.
"He's the consummate pro," said Miller. "He always stays focused and stays ready. He's like me, one of the first guys here and one of the last to leave."
Jones, who has come off the bench to score 26 points in the two games while hitting 11 of 16 shots, was 3 for 4 from behind the arc.
"We've got all the confidence in the world in our second team," he said. "We're showing we can play with anybody. I know they're laying off of me and giving me the open shot. They expect me to drive. I've got my confidence up and I feel like I'm going to hit every shot I take."
Bender said the Pacers have a special incentive in the playoffs.
"We want to get a ring for Big Pops," he said in reference to the 38-year-old Miller, who has hinted he might retire if the Pacers win the championship.
The absence of Artest also provided incentive.
"We knew we had to step up," said Bender. "Ron is an All-Star, the most valuable defensive player in the league. Anybody that is missing a guy like him is going to struggle a little bit. Fortunately, we were able to regroup and win the game."