Piercing blow
With their star ineffective, Celtics slink closer to early exit
By Shira Springer, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

It was deja vu without any altercation between Jermaine O'Neal and Brandon Hunter, with hardly any fight at all from the Celtics, for that matter. It was the worst home loss in franchise history, a defeat indicative of all that is wrong with the Celtics.

No surprises, nothing new at the FleetCenter last night. Indiana used a 19-2 second-quarter run to separate themselves from the Celtics and essentially decide the game before halftime.

Poor defense, inadequate rebounding, and inept passing prevented Boston from having a legitimate chance against Indiana. Shooting 47 percent, scoring 21 second-chance points, and forcing 16 turnovers that led to 20 points, the Pacers dismantled the Celtics, 108-85. The postgame analysis by the home team reiterated familiar themes that dated back well before the start of the postseason. The Celtics talked about the kind of inconsistency that allows extended runs and the kind of immaturity that has 12 players still headed in 12 directions.

"This has been rough," said Paul Pierce, who was part of the problem with a playoff-career-low 9 points (4 for 17) and early foul trouble. "As bad as we have played these three games has hurt me at the bottom of my heart. I know what kind of competitor I am. I know how bad I want to win. I know where I want to be at, [where I] want to take this franchise. For us to come out here [last night] and get embarrassed the way we did is just something I can't explain."

Maybe not in a semi-existential sense, like why a team staring at a first-round sweep could not muster a 48-minute effort in front of 17,680 fans. But otherwise, there were plenty of obvious explanations on the court, starting with the disturbing performance of Pierce and his even more troubling despondent demeanor.

Sidelined by a pair of personals in the first half, Pierce glumly watched his teammates try to keep pace. He looked more than a little annoyed about missing seven minutes. He left the game with 4:19 remaining in the first with the Celtics trailing, 14-12. The first ended with Indiana ahead, 23-20.

Coach John Carroll reinserted Pierce with 9:13 left in the second with the Celtics trailing, 29-24.

The return of Pierce coincided with the start of the 19-2 run by the Pacers, though it really was no coincidence. After the captain hit a reverse layup to bring Boston within 3, Indiana went to work inside and out. The layup accounted for Pierce's only field goal of the first half as he entered the break with 2 points (1 for 7).

Jonathan Bender started the big run for Indiana with a 3-point play. O'Neal followed with a 16-footer. Next, Bender nailed a 3-pointer and Anthony Johnson hit a trey, pushing the Pacers ahead, 40-28. Al Harrington (19 points off the bench) capped the run with a layup on the fast break, propelling the Pacers to a 48-28 lead with 3:59 to go in the second.

"We've put ourselves in a position where we're down, 3-0, and you can't even be upset," said Chucky Atkins (12 points). "They're just flat-out outplaying us in every aspect of the basketball game.

"I don't know what we can do, if we haven't done it by now . . . Everything we do, they have an answer for and they can do better . . . You just don't get to the playoffs and all of a sudden things are out of whack. It's been this way for a while. It's disturbing to have issues because this time of year, everything is magnified. You want to give a good showing, that we deserve to be in the playoffs."

But throughout the series, it's become harder to make a case the Celtics belong. Boston tried to save face in the third quarter, cutting its deficit to 9. With free throws and a pair of field goals from Pierce, the Celtics closed to within 64-55 with 5:58 remaining in the third. Pierce capped the 7-2 run with a 3-point play. But it was too little too late.

The fourth quarter proceeded as a mere formality with the Pacers pushing their advantage to a game-high 26 points. Fans at the FleetCenter filed out en masse with 6:45 left.

"Our problem, as you have seen, has been that we get off to a decent quarter, then little by little, they wear us down," said Carroll. "So, we have to maybe make a dramatic chance, maybe do something that's just out of the ordinary. Because just playing a normal kind of game at some point was not going to be good enough.

"When we came out in the third quarter and we were able to cut it a little bit, down to 9, I thought we had another chance. But again, any time you make any mistake against this team, you pay for it dearly. A lot of teams you can make some mistakes and you can still hang around, but not this team. That's how good they are."

Captain is alone at the helm
Sinking feeling results from receiving no help
By Jackie MacMullan, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

The idea was that Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce couldn't do it alone. The premise for dismantling, then rebuilding the Celtics was predicated on that very fact.

Therefore, it would only be logical to assume that Pierce certainly can't win playoff games all by himself.

Especially when he scores 2 points in the first half. Especially when he misses 13 of 17 shots. Especially when most of the time he's trying to concoct miracles against the league's top defender, Ron Artest, and at least one or two other Indiana irritants.

It should not come as a shock to anyone that the Celtics woke up this morning in the depths of a cavernous 3-0 deficit in their best-of-seven series. The Indiana Pacers are better, deeper, smarter. Pierce may be the most explosive offensive player on the floor, but the Pacers have settled on a familiar strategy -- to take away every nook and cranny and angle from the Celtics' captain, and dare the rest of Boston's roster to beat them.

The likelihood of this occurring is extremely slim. Without Pierce's production, this team is cooked. As it is, even with him they are struggling mightily to stay afloat. Pierce submitted only 9 points last night, his career playoff low, while his team endured its worst loss in home playoff history, a 108-85 beating that was every bit as bad as it sounds.

Dismiss this as yesterday's news if you like. You knew this team wasn't going anywhere, especially against a rejuvenated Pacers team that has flourished under the dual leadership of two former Celtics, coach Rick Carlisle and head of basketball operations Larry Bird. Feel free to turn off your set, and obliterate that 0.5 rating into one that is negligible. But there's only one problem with ignoring this basketball team -- it is made up of real people with legitimate frustrations and enough angst to start their own support group. Leading the way is the emotional Pierce, who has not accepted this losing as readily as his often apathetic fan base.

"Right now, I've lost seven consecutive playoff [games] with the Celtics," Pierce said. "We were swept last year and now we're on the brink of being swept again. This is the most embarrassing last two playoff series I've ever been a part of. I have a lot of pride and I wear this dream on my heart. It is just difficult moments right now."

Many of those difficult moments have been created by Artest, recently coronated the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. Artest has bumped, prodded, poked, fronted, overplayed, and boxed out Pierce from the moment this series started. When Pierce has slithered away from Artest, a host of other Indiana defenders has been waiting, taking away the baseline, or the quick curl, or the drive to the hoop.

And, yet, there has been no crowing from the Pacers. They respect Pierce's ability at any time to torch them for 30. Until this series is over -- likely tomorrow -- Indiana will toe the line with revered comments.

"Just because Paul has had a couple of bad games doesn't mean he'll have a bad game [tomorrow]," Artest insisted. "He's a big-time player."

Let's see how big. Pierce said he challenged his teammates as they walked back to their locker room after the loss to make sure they weren't blanked in four straight again. He must do better than 30 percent shooting, 18.7 points a night, and 6.3 turnovers (his averages for the series) to prevent that.

"As I was walking in [to the locker room] I said there is no way the Boston Celtics should ever get swept," he said. "This is not the type of franchise this should happen to. This is one of the best franchises in all of basketball.

"If we don't have the guys who are going to accept that and have the pride to put on the uniform and compete at a high level every night, no matter who is out there, then we need to get guys who do."

Such talk is admirable, but it must be backed up by the proper behavior. Pierce did not exhibit a fine brand of leadership midway through the first quarter, when, tagged with two early fouls, he sat and pouted on the bench, apart from his team. He was notably absent from the team huddle for at least three timeouts, either because of frustration over the calls or his unfortunate luck of having to sit. Either way, if he's going to preach playing hard and playing together, he must back up his words with the appropriate actions.

Coach John Carroll jumped to his star's defense last night, citing the tremendous pressure he's under without the kind of supporting cast that could provide him -- and the team -- with a little wiggle room.

"He's the star of the team, and when we lose and we lose bad, the focus is going to be on him," said Carroll. "But to his credit, to tell you a little about Paul Pierce, at the end of the game I asked him if he wanted to come out and he said, `No.'

"He said, `If we're going to lose like this, I'm going to be on the court. If the ship's going down, I'm going down with the ship tonight.' "

You wonder how much longer Pierce will be willing to eschew the raft and the life preservers. He signed an extension with this team last year envisioning a team that would again be contending for the Eastern Conference championship. Now he's in the midst of a disjointed transition period that has left a slew of bodies in its wake. He admitted last night that clunkers like this one make him wonder if he can stick it out for the long haul.

"It definitely crosses my mind," he said. "I've been talking to some of our players about the future and what direction we're headed in. I think about it all the time."

You know what he's thinking about now? Why couldn't he have taken on the Pacers with Walker and Eric Williams and Tony Battie and Tony Delk? Why did they have to start over when he's in the prime of his career, and ready to take the next step forward?

"We need to get him some help," Carroll admitted. "I don't think we can beat them without another person contributing."

That person better step up -- quickly. Pierce is running out of time -- and answers.

Ainge picks future over being present
By Jackie MacMullan, Globe Columnist | April 24, 2004

Those who waited for Indiana head of basketball operations -- and Celtics legend -- Larry Bird to make a grand entrance into the FleetCenter just before tipoff last night were undoubtedly disappointed. Bird sneaked into his seat about 10 rows back of midcourt without incident or notice.

Those hoping for a warm embrace between Bird and Boston's head of basketball operations -- former teammate Danny Ainge -- were also let down.

That's because Danny wasn't even in the building. He was in Europe scouting future Celtics instead.

Feel free to interpret this any way you want. Ainge bashers will view this as yet another example of an arrogant leader who exhibits total disregard for his current players and this season on the brink. Ainge supporters (there are more than you think) will point to this as another example of a forward-thinking executive who is working diligently to make sure his franchise utilizes its three first-round picks to their fullest.

I have no doubt Ainge did what he thought was best to improve the Celtics. If he could have been reached on his cellphone, he would have told me he had a small window of opportunity to see some significant draft prospects one final time before making his decision in June. He would have stressed his responsibilities to rebuild this team with as much knowledge as possible. It would be a persuasive argument.

But it still wouldn't have made it right.

This basketball team has been through an incredibly tumultuous season, having survived a number of trades, injuries, the resignation of its popular coach, and the suspension, then termination of its teammate. Somehow, the Celtics regrouped in time to scratch their way into the postseason, and while you and I can debate until next Easter whether this was a prudent move for the team, they got there. It meant something to these players and their interim coach, John Carroll, who has proven to be calm, poised, and professional in the most impossible of situations.

This team deserves the support of its head of basketball operations. Ainge leveled his share of cannonballs at this battered rig; now that it's taking on water, he should stick around and go down with the ship.

Ainge was in Indiana for Game 1, but missed Game 2, last night's 108-85 loss in Game 3, and will also be absent for tomorrow's Game 4, which could well be the final game of the season.

Team owner Wyc Grousbeck said Ainge "agonized" over whether to remain with the team or travel overseas to see the end of the season for a number of European teams.

"His most important job right now is to draft players for us," said Grousbeck. "One of the reasons our franchise has gotten to where it has is because we've botched the draft all the way through the '90s. We've had, I think, six lottery picks, and have only Paul Pierce to show for it.

"We are not going to botch this draft through lack of effort. My No. 1 priority as CEO of this team is to get this draft right."

It would have been nice to know what his players thought of Ainge's absence last night, but most of them were hanging out in the trainer's room before the game and were not available for comment. Center Mark Blount, alone in the locker room, said, "Danny's not here? I didn't notice. It makes no difference. We don't care if he's here or not."

(An author's aside here: Blount is not the most objective person in these matters. He's been sniping at Ainge all season.)

When asked about Ainge's absence, Carroll merely smiled and said, "I really don't have a comment."

Grousbeck contended that since Ainge was responsible for bringing 12 of the current Celtics aboard, "They know exactly how he feels. Jiri Welsch has no questions about how Danny feels about him."

Former Celtic Kenny Anderson said he doubts Ainge's presence would have mattered to the players.

"Their backs are against the wall, man," Anderson said. "Even if all of their mothers are there, it's not going to matter if they don't win any games."

Anderson has a point. Having Ainge at the Fleet hardly improved Boston's chances of winning. It's been a long, long time since he's drained any threes for the boys in green. But that really isn't the issue. It's about respecting the efforts of these players, here and now, and scouring the world trying to unearth their replacements at this time of year is distasteful at best.

I asked Indiana coach Rick Carlisle if Bird gave any thought to missing this first-round cakewalk to get in his final looks at European prospects. Answered Carlisle, "He's been over in Europe all season avoiding us. He doesn't need to go back."

Does it matter if your basketball boss is around for the playoffs?

"Yes, of course, it does," Carlisle answered. "I can't quantify it. It's just a significant show of support for the team."

Will Ainge make it back in time for the exit interviews that are customary at the end of the season? And, if he does return, what kind of credibility will he have? How can he look these players in the eye and comment on their play or demeanor in the postseason when he's missed most of it himself?

Where was Danny when Pierce was on the bench midway through the first quarter last night, steaming over two early fouls? While his team was in the huddle, drawing up plays in the midst of a 20-20 deadlock, Pierce sat alone, staring off in the distance. He did it for three consecutive timeouts, purposely isolating himself from his teammates. If I was the GM of the Celtics, that might be something I'd talk to my captain about after the game. Of course, if you aren't there, and didn't witness it firsthand, it would be hard to discuss it.

If the Celtics draft a European stud in June, Ainge will undoubtedly point back to this trip as the one that sealed the deal on his decision. He is right to give this draft his full attention.

Having said that, sometimes looking to the future includes participating in the present. Pierce is, after all, part of Next Year and beyond. And, last time I checked, he was on the floor trying to survive last night at the Fleet.

Too bad his boss wasn't there to see it.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is

Blueprint on full display
By Peter May, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

This is what you might be in for -- if you're lucky -- by, say, the turn of the decade. Danny Ainge might be on the Senior PGA Tour by then. Paul Pierce might be playing for the veteran minimum to get that one shot at a ring.

Watch the Indiana Pacers -- you'll have plenty of opportunities as the playoffs progress -- and you'll hopefully see what Ainge has in mind for the Celtics. Once again last night, as Indiana pushed the Celtics to life support with a 108-85 destruction, you saw a deep team with its emerging young stars crush the clueless hosts.

Red Auerbach noticed. Standing with Larry Bird after the game, Auerbach said, matter-of-factly, "Everybody on their second team could be a starter for our team."

He's right. Who wouldn't take Al Harrington or Jonathan Bender? Right now, that's a no-brainer. Those two, ages 24 and 23, respectively, once again overwhelmed the Celtics with dominating bench play; they each had 19 points while Harrington added nine rebounds. (OK, Al, I wished I'd voted for you for Sixth Man.)

These guys didn't just fall off the turnip truck. Bender is in his fifth season. Harrington is in his sixth. When the Pacers made the playoffs under Bird, Harrington couldn't even get a spot on the playoff roster. He only had nine games of postseason experience prior to the start of this series, six coming last year in ugly fashion against the Celtics.

"It's very hard to wait for guys like these because people want to see success right away," said Pacers president Donnie Walsh, the man responsible for drafting Bender and Harrington. "But it's not just a matter of talent with these guys. It's a mind-set that they've developed this year about how you go to work each day."

Bender is the perfect example of how most young players need time -- the younger the player, the more time he needs. He has had the words "promising" and "can't miss" attached to his name since Indiana traded Antonio Davis to Toronto in 1999 to get the fifth overall selection to take Bender. Bird has called him the most talented player on the team and, recently, while watching a high school all-star game, said, "Jonathan Bender is more talented than all these guys put together."

But he's been the Indiana Godot. When he wasn't learning, he was hurt. He played in only 21 games this season, missing the first 2 1/2 months following knee surgery and then missing more time because of ongoing knee woes and a sprained right shoulder. In four previous playoff runs with Indiana, Bender had appeared in 18 games and a total of 104 minutes.

He has been an absolute killer in this series.

"I look at Jonathan Bender over the last couple of years and I see a guy who has worked his tail off and made unbelievable improvements," Celtics coach John Carroll said. "He's starting to do it. It makes you marvel at what they've put together and how deep they are."

Bender and Harrington have been the two most visible examples of that vaunted depth in this series. Harrington arrived at the FleetCenter last night having learned earlier in the day that he was the runner-up to Dallas's Antawn Jamison in balloting for the Sixth Man Award. He has overpowered anyone Carroll has put out there in a dramatic reversal from last year.

It didn't hurt Bender or Harrington that they landed on a seasoned team. The Pacers went to the NBA Finals in Bender's rookie year. Harrington joined the team the year before, when they went to the Eastern Conference finals. That was their good fortune. It also was their good fortune that Indiana could -- and did -- give them time.

"I had all kinds of calls for both of them," Walsh said, referring to trade inquiries. "But even if the coach had asked me to, I wouldn't have done it. And the thing with Bender is, I don't think he's scratched the surface yet."

Geez. Did we have to hear that?

It's not enough that these pups are getting their playoff props at the expense of a dysfunctional Celtics team. Now we have to be told they still can get a lot better?

The Pacers should be Ainge's model. But it helps if you have a successful, veteran nucleus in which to raise the kids. The Celtics have no such successful nucleus and that makes it doubly difficult. The idea of veteran leadership these days is to pan the stands to see what ex-Celtics might be there; last night was a gold mine with Bird, Red, and Robert Parish among others.

But the really depressing part of all this is contemplating if and when Danny's imports can even approach the standard now being set by Bender and Harrington. And, unfortunately, that is a big "if" and an even bigger "when."

Welsch gets short shrift in lineup change
By Shira Springer, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

Entering Game 3, interim coach John Carroll knew Boston needed a change. Something, anything, to reverse the team's fortunes in its first-round playoff series against Indiana.

He contemplated starting Ricky Davis in place of Jiri Welsch. But he also knew poor starts were not a problem. That said, Carroll gave more minutes to Davis later in the game, at the expense of Welsch. Davis led the team with 16 points in 35 minutes.

"I thought after the second quarter we needed something else," said Carroll. "I love Jiri Welsch. I love him as a player, but I thought we needed something different."

Welsch did not expect the move. And the starting small forward was puzzled by his 21-minute stint, though he still finished with 11 points and 2 rebounds.

"I didn't play much, but you have to ask Coach, because I don't know what happened," said Welsch. "They made a decision and they went with it. I'm a player and I cannot do anything about that. I am frustrated about the game, but not about [playing time]."

Aching for minutes

Kenny Anderson did not play during Game 1 or Game 2, the only player on the Indiana playoff roster who can lay claim to that dubious distinction.

While Anderson would like more of a role in the Pacers' first-round series with the Celtics, he simply shrugged off his lack of playing time. After starting early in the season before a calf injury pushed him to third on the Pacers' point guard depth chart, Anderson tries to remain positive.

"I'm just waiting, you know it's a long playoff series, each series," said Anderson, who played six minutes last night and scored 4 points in the Pacers' 108-85 blowout. "I'm just being prepared, trying to get my workouts in and mentally being negative-free. [Indiana coach] Rick [Carlisle] knows I'm ready, if he wants to throw me out there."

At the request of Anderson and his agent, the Pacers had lined up a couple of trade possibilities for the 33-year-old as the trading deadline neared in mid-February. But when presented with the option of heading to Detroit or Toronto, Anderson decided to remain in Indiana with a team and coach he knew and liked.

"Sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side," said Anderson. "I just wanted to finish the year out here. Whatever the future holds for me, I'll deal with it down the road. But right now, I'm a Pacer. I would like to play. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'm 100 percent happy. I would like to be out there on the court, but that's out of my control.

"What I can control is being ready when my number is called."

Anderson said he would look at all options after the season, including a possible, though unlikely, return to Boston.

Larry who?

The soldout crowd at the FleetCenter probably had a better idea of what Larry Bird accomplished during his 13-year career with the Celtics than the 20-something players who currently constitute the Pacers, many of whom were still in elementary school when Bird retired in 1992.

When asked if the Pacers respected him for being Larry Bird, Indiana's president of basketball operations joked, "Only if they watch Classic Sports. I think we have a mutual respect. I respect a lot of these guys the way they work, the way they conduct themselves. They're going to have problems. But this year, they won a lot of games, so [that would] eliminate a lot of the problems around here."

Bird watched the game next to Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra from a perch about 10 rows behind center court.

It can get worse

The Celtics suffered their worst home playoff loss in franchise history. The previous largest margin of defeat at home occurred April 13, 1972, a 116-94 loss to the Knicks. It was Boston's worst playoff loss since a 124-77 loss at Orlando April 28, 1995 . . . In Carlisle's estimation, nothing compared with the playoff atmosphere at Boston Garden. And as someone who played in the playoffs at the Garden and coached postseason games at the FleetCenter, Carlisle should know. That said, Carlisle knew his players would not take anything for granted given the intensity of the FleetCenter crowds. When asked if he got some of the same feelings walking into the FleetCenter as he did Boston Garden, Carlisle said, "Somewhat. That's about as far as I can go. The other place is like walking into the Vatican of basketball to me." . . . Jermaine O'Neal, who missed Indiana's practice Thursday because of a sinus infection, started last night and finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes, even though he was not 100 percent . . . "If we could make a trade right now that would help us, I'd be all for it," said Celtics coach John Carroll. "Maybe we could bring in Shaq [O'Neal] or Jason Kidd." . . . Best wishes to Joe Durkin. Last night was his last game as senior director of marketing. Durkin worked for the organization for 18 years. He is leaving to take a job with a sports event management company . . . Patriot Rosevelt Colvin was spotted watching the game from the sideline opposite the Celtics' bench. Other famous faces in the building included Red Auerbach and Robert Parish.

** Officially, they were "enhancements" to the Green Team, the group of the men and women that toss T-shirts into the stands during timeouts. But the fact that the "enhancements" were all attractive young women in tight sleeveless tops did not go unnoticed. The Celtics took pains to point out that the women did not dance, so they were not technically a dance team. But one has to wonder if the Celtics are headed in that direction. "We made a conscious decision to amp up our game entertainment," said Rich Gotham, executive vice president of sales and corporate development. "The ideas is to give fans more entertainment because the playoffs are a special time of year. We wanted to enhance our Green Team, our promotional team, and get more fan interaction." . . .

Artest's return gives 'D' a boost
By Michael Vega, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

It was not as though Reggie Miller was divulging any state secrets -- or, worse, the Pacers' game plan -- when he intoned the reason Indiana had pushed the Celtics to the brink of elimination with a 108-85 Game 3 thrashing of Boston's Team Gangrene last night.

"I think defensively tonight we were really locked in," said the Pacers' captain. "Paul Pierce is not going to shoot 4 for 17 without a lot of great help defense."

And last night, Ron Artest, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, returned from a one-game suspension to give the Pacers' defense a boost. Not that it was in any way toothless without him, but Artest clearly gave Indiana the defensive fangs to sink its teeth into a 3-0 lead in this best-of-seven series.

For a guy who loves the game as much as Artest, it pained him to have to miss a single moment of Indiana's Game 2 victory over the Celtics at Conseco Fieldhouse.

"I was disappointed not to play, but it happens," said Artest, who chipped in 15 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals in 29 minutes last night. "Things happen. You just deal with it."

On the same day the NBA lauded him for his defense, league officials were placed in the awkward position of having to slap Artest on the wrist (seemingly yet again) for leaving the bench during a Game 1 altercation between Jermaine O'Neal and Brandon Hunter.

Artest, in his defense, said he was only looking after his teammate, O'Neal. There was no malicious intent.

"None at all," Artest said. "You can fake things, but that wasn't fake. There was nothing that was going to happen at that point."

And yet, when he was banished to the bench, Artest had an inkling the league would come down on him with a suspension. "Yeah, that's the way things have been going for me for a long time now."

But that was the old Ron Artest. The petulant Ron Artest. The immature Ron Artest.

"Ron's role has changed on this team," Miller said. "Last year, he was more of an individual defender. And now we are asking Ron to play more team defense. Yeah, he can play that aggressive and rough style, but everyone has rules and things they have to follow on the defensive end."

Late in the second quarter last night, it was evident Artest was no longer a breaker but a follower of the rules when he found himself in a tussle with Chris Mihm for a loose ball under the Celtics' basket. Artest tightly wrapped his arms around the basketball. Mihm tightly wrapped his arms around Artest, who could have easily let fly an elbow.

But that was the old Ron Artest. The new and improved Artest instead calmly allowed the officials to adjudicate the matter and faced off against Mihm for a jump ball.

"I've tried [to turn over a new leaf]," Artest acknowledged. "I just try to think of my team, my family, and everybody."

While Al Harrington and Jonathan Bender each had 19 points off the bench to lead the Pacers last night, Artest's presence in the lineup clearly emboldened Indiana's commitment to defense.

"He makes a big difference," Miller said, "because his hands are so quick and his feet are quicker. He really puts the offense in a bad situation when he's guarding, not that our jobs are easier, but having him out there on the court, he does so much to create havoc."

Want proof? Then take a glance at Pierce's line: 4 for 17 field goals, including 0 of 2 from the 3-point arc, for 9 points. It represented a playoff low for Pierce, who also had as many assists as turnovers (4) in 37 minutes.

"Having Ron back not only gives you a great defensive player, it gives you a multidimensional offensive player who can score inside, hit threes, make plays," said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle. "Guys like that at the 3 position don't grow on trees in this league. So we're very fortunate to have him and, obviously, it helped having him back tonight." No big secret there.

Rebounding key to bouncing back
Celtics must clean up effort on glass
By Marvin Pave, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

Someone reminded Chris Mihm that with his team down, 3-0, in their best-of-seven series to the Pacers, the Celtics' backs were to the wall.

"Yeah, as if they weren't going into tonight," responded the center after last night's 108-85 clinic put on by Indiana at the FleetCenter. "Now we've got to come out with nothing to lose on Sunday because that's where we are right now."

There was a time when "Celtic Pride" was about trying to win games in NBA Finals, but as the eighth seed against the team with the best regular-season record in the league, that phrase has been reduced to winning one game on their home court to avoid a series sweep.

"Our main focus has to be on keeping them off the glass," said Mihm. "They killed us in the first half on the boards. Every time we give them easy put-back buckets like that, we're shooting ourselves in the foot. That's a start right there -- and then making sure we get good shots on the other end.

"We made runs tonight, but you've got to give them credit. They had the answers and we took one [on the chin] tonight."

The Celtics' ineffectiveness on the glass as well as on the perimeter (as in eight Pacers 3-pointers to Boston's three) frustrated Jiri Welsch.

"We can't allow so many offensive rebounds and second-chance plays," said Welsch. "We're not defending well. We let them do whatever they want -- easy layups, open shots -- we just couldn't stop them. But we cannot fold or give up. We have at least 48 minutes of basketball left. It's our job. It has to be everyone's pride to go out there and try to make the series as long as possible. We just have to put it together, but we don't have much time."

Center Mark Blount described Indiana as a "solid" team with great talent and depth.

"They're getting it done and they're making plays and you've got to play 48 minutes -- a solid 48 minutes," Blount said. "You can't turn the ball over and give them points."

Sixteen Celtics turnovers (Indiana had nine) were high on a list of the home team's transgressions.

"It's crazy out there right now," said Walter McCarty. "We're playing against a tough team but it also feels that sometimes we're playing against ourselves. We don't do the things we need to do for four quarters to beat a team like this. So it's very tough.

"They crash four guys and a lot of times we've got two guys boxing out."

Four against two doesn't work well on the boards, and when you can't protect the basketball if you do get it, well, that makes for a long night and a short series.

"We turned the ball over a lot and they're a team that converts, especially on the fast break," said McCarty. "And we're not a good team right now."

The antidote?

"We've got to play four quarters both on the defense and on the offense and not worry about who gets shots or who scores the baskets," said McCarty. "If we don't do those types of things, we're going home after Sunday. We have to decide as a team to come together and play together. If not, we're on vacation."

Heinsohn prefers the runaround
By Marvin Pave, Globe Staff | April 24, 2004

He has been a part of Celtics championship teams as a player, coach, and broadcast analyst, and Tom Heinsohn says there's a thread that connects all of them.

"Competitive people who know how to sublimate their own egos for the good of the team. That's what it takes. That's the key," said Heinsohn prior to last night's Game 3 of the Celtics-Pacers series at the FleetCenter. "One guy can't win it. Two guys can't win it."

Heinsohn, who helped lead the Celtics to their first championship 47 years ago as a rookie out of Holy Cross, says the current Celtics team has players who fit the unselfish mold and that the nucleus is there -- not necessarily for an immediate NBA title, but for a team with the potential to benefit from an uptempo style of play.

"Some of them came in the middle of the season. The prior coach [Jim O'Brien] was defensive-oriented and not offensive-oriented and since then, to salvage the season, they've been trying to run," he said. "I think 13 of our 16 titles were won with this style of play -- to pace the game, which was always the secret weapon of the Celtics. Danny [Ainge] believes that and I saw that as the shortest way to win when I coached."

Heinsohn believes that no matter how Ainge tweaks the roster for next season, the most important move will be the hiring of a coach who espouses the uptempo style.

"You don't coach score in the middle of the first quarter. You coach pace. And you have to believe in the style. When I was a player," he recalled, "you were instructed to take the ball out of the net, step out of bounds, and find the furthest guy up the floor who was open -- and that put the other team in jeopardy all the time. So I think what the team needs is a coach for that style.

"As a former coach, I would not be afraid to go into next season with the players the Celtics have now -- if you get some better ones, fine -- but we've essentially been playing slowdown basketball since Bill Fitch was here. The Celtics of the Bird era had the three big guys and it was big-man basketball.'

"The Lakers of that era were the Celtics of old. They were the running team because [ex-Celtic] Bill Sharman was the man in charge of that organization."

No matter who comes aboard, said Heinsohn, the playoffs require clear thinking and control of emotions. "If you're a young team, you have a tendency to go up and down emotionally with a win or a loss, but you have to attack each game like it's the most important game."

Heinsohn knows all about ups and downs: As Celtics coach in the 1974 NBA Finals against Milwaukee, his team was dealt what could have been a devastating loss at Boston Garden on a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hook shot over Henry Finkel in Game 6. The Celtics had to play Game 7 on the road and Heinsohn knew his team had to throw a different look at the Bucks.

"I'd been there before. I wanted to do something to take the crowd out of the game in the first quarter and so I changed our defensive philosophy. We doubled Kareem and forced Cornell Warner to be a superstar," Heinsohn said. "By the time they realized what we were doing, we were 17 points up and they never could catch up. It was done not because I believed in the philosophy, but because I believed in the surprise element of it."

So, do the current Celtics have any surprises in their repertoire against a more talented opponent?

"The team is not coordinated yet. Some guys have been together for 40 games," said Heinsohn. "The surprise to me is that they're in the playoffs. But they're in and they're playing the top team in the conference. It's good experience for them."

Experience they can run with in the future.