[size=18:0bda34d10e]Croshere stellar in rare start [/size]
BY HELENE ST. JAMES
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
This is not something that would happen to Ron Artest. No way does a teammate hide behind a curtain and make rude noises while Artest talks.
But with Austin Croshere, it was open season. Croshere had just had his biggest game in something like four years, and there he stood in the loading dock at the Palace, about to talk to the kind of media throng that normally hordes Jermaine O'Neal.
Croshere who owned Game 4 on Friday night, hurtling treys like he was shooting at the ocean, and shrugging off Rasheed Wallace like he was a piece of lint and hauling the Indiana Pacers back into the Eastern Conference finals. There he was starting for the first time in two years and two months, providing the shot of adrenaline the Pacers needed to secure an 83-68 victory and even the series, 2-2, heading back to Conseco Fieldhouse for Sunday's Game 5. Croshere, who started in place of Jeff Foster, had 14 points off 5-for-8 shooting in 30 minutes.
"He came up big for us tonight," O'Neal said.
"I think we saw something in the fourth quarter in the last game, we had to take advantage of the way they were collapsing on our big guys," Croshere said. "When Jermaine beat somebody, he had a shot-blocker there. But with me being on the perimeter, it really spread the floor and made them have to be honest with me."
The Pistons had trouble adjusting to Croshere. Rasheed Wallace guarded him for most of the night, but even when Ben Wallace got the assignment, Croshere succeeded. On one play, Ben Wallace clearly expected Croshere to attack the paint; instead, Croshere drifted back and landed a three-pointer that gave Indiana a 16-point lead.
Again and again, Croshere burned the Pistons. It began with a harmless lay-up a minute and a half after tip-off, and continued when Reggie Miller passed the ball inside and Croshere caught it for a dunk. It was a pass to Miller that became a three-pointer in the second period. It was a three-pointer that beat the buzzer by seven-tenths of a second to end the first half, and two straight treys that launched the third quarter and sent Indiana ahead, 57-41. It was the way Croshere draped himself to Rasheed Wallace, helping O'Neal stay out of foul trouble.
The Pacers decided on the switch Thursday.
"It was a little bit of a gamble because defensively, you don't get the same type of activity," coach Rick Carlisle said. "But Austin changes the game, he stretches the floor, he's very good driving the ball."
Croshere hadn't started since March 24, 2002, so the time was ripe to have fun with him. Hidden behind a curtain, Scot Pollard made farting noises until Croshere tore open the curtain and caught him -- much like he'd just unveiled the Pistons.
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.