2003-04 season game 7: Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers, Tuesday, Nov 11, 2003  7:00pm
Remembering everyone over there.
Tonight's game was bound to be interesting.  In their last meeting during the preseason, the Good Guys finally beat the Pacers with Larry Bird serving Indiana in a professional capacity, something they never did when Larry was the Pacers coach.

Larry has a special love of Boston, and a competitor's respect that requires him to be at his absolute best when the Celtics are playing. 

The spectre of Isaiah Thomas has been banished with a Pacer five game win streak with Rick Carlisle at the helm.  There's also been an amazing transformation of players like Ron Artest, the former poster boy for technical fouls, into a respectful--and amazingly productive--player, who just got named the EC Player of the Week.  Kenny Anderson may want to make a statement or two against his old team.  Then, there's the fact that the C's wiped the Pacers out of last year's playoffs.  All of which means the Pacers are emotionally and physically ready to try to run the C's out of the Fieldhouse.

On our side, the Celtics come off one of a woodshed whacking of the Sacramento Kings, where Vin Baker showed that as far as the Celtics are concerned, the EC Player of the Week doesn't play for the Pacers.  Eric Williams is back and playing well, and the running game is starting to take shape.  The C's would also like to establish that the win in the playoffs and the last preseason matchup weren't flukes.  And you can bet that Danny Ainge would like nothing better than to go 1-zip on Larry in the regular season.

Like I said, the makings of an interesting game.


First Quarter:

The NBA League Pass gave us the Indiana Pacers broadcast tonight, with two guys who looked and sounded like they were picked out of the crowd at random--Al Albert and the Mighty Quinn Buckner.  Certainly, they had a near-encyclopedic knowledge of cliches.  I also learned there's nothing like an Indiana tourism commercial recycling an old "Brady Bunch" song to make you long for a Foxwoods commercial.

The Celtics held forth with Vin Baker and Kedrick Brown at Forward, Mike James and Paul Pierce at Guard, and Tony Battie at Center.

The Pacers countered with Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal at Forward, Kenny Anderson and Reggie Miller at Guard, and Jeff Foster at Center.

Quinn figured they needed to take Baker more seriously now, along with Pierce.  Gee, really?  What incisiveness, to state that the guy currently second in the league in scoring might be someone your defense might want to cozy up to.

Indiana won the tip and brought the ball up.  The Celtics played strong defense and took control of the ball.  The long pass was made to Kedrick, but the Pacers were back quickly on defense.  Pierce made a nice pass to Battie, who banked it home.  I was happy to see this as I thought it meant that the lessons had been learned from Sacramento, and the C's would be a strong running offensive team and a tough minded defensive team right from the start.

I never win the Celtics win/loss predictions either.  Waah.

The next Pacer trip was also stopped by the Celtics defense.  The C's ran it up and got a good look that didn't drop.  That's when the boom was lowered, as Reggie Miller showed he can still hit threes. 

That's when the C's stopped running.  Indiana was beating the C's on the offense, and Jermaine O'Neal was having his way inside.  The Pacers were outrebounding Boston at seemingly every opportunity.  For all of Jermaine's postgame tantrum over the officiating, he sure didn't refuse a trip to the free throw line when Battie was called for a cheapie.

His own first came on the next play, when he slammed headlong into Mike James, who was set outside the circle. A close call, admittedly, but a good one.

The simple fact is, there were no individual players to single out for good or bad play.  Defensive assignments were missed as often as shots were.  Individual efforts were just barely enough to keep the C's in striking distance.  Indiana remained turnover-prone, which helped.  But overall, The Pacers played a superb quarter.

Vin Baker was a bright spot, hitting a deep two.  I shouldn't make it sound like the C's defense was nonexistent.  It was just ineffective, as the Pacers either found the open man, or hit an outside jumper.  Boston just didn't dig in like it needed to.

When the C's did move a little faster on offense, it was frequently for a quick jumper that didn't drop.

But when I thought things were fading fast, Pierce fed Blount for an easy two.  Eric Wiliams hit an outside jumper for two more.  Pierce was getting reasonably good looks--considering he was often getting the ball late in the shot clock--that just didn't go in.  At first, I thought the C's were playing badly.  But reviewing the tape, I realized that the C's took reasonable shots against a tough Indiana defense.

Blount took one of those drop swings with his arm on O'Neal, and Pacer Coach Carlisle got a "T" for complaining when a call wasn't made.  On the replay, Blount may have indeed swiped O'Neal's arm a bit, but Jermaine needs acting lessons, as he responded like someone had tried to tear his arm off.

Off a Pacer turnover on the next play, Eric Williams ran hard and got a hoop with a minute left.  That made it 21-18, Indiana leading, and things looked ragged but not too terrible.
  But Harrington capped good Pacer play by hitting a three to end the quarter with the Pacers holding a 26-18 lead.

In some ways, the game played better in the quarter than I thought at first.  Boston shot 8-18 from the floor, Indiana went 10-20.  The C's held a 7-5 edge in assists.  But The Pacers were killing the C's on the boards, with a 14-6 edge.

Second Quarter:

The Celtics began as they ended--throwing up one-and-done shots in a playing style distressingly reminiscent of last season.  The Pcaers did the same, passing the ball well and scoring far too easily over the C's defense.  At least Blount refused to let Fred Jones get an easy hoop on a takedown.

But the C's had yet to score a basket in the second quarter, and Kenny Anderson was laughing at the C's on the court.  It wasn't until Pierce hit with 8:30 left in the quarter that the C's scored at all. The Pacers, by this time, had added 12 points to their score.  The timeframe to the Celtics' next basket was much shorter, as Baker fed Battie through a crowd for a hoop.  Jermaine picked up foul #2 when Vin was shooting.  Vin made both.

That means that out of the eight points the C's had taken nearly seven minutes to score, Vin was a clear factor in four of them, with the other four coming from Pierce.  The announcers referred to the point guard position for Boston as a festering sore, obviously a mistaken reference to Jermaine O'Neal. 

Then Pierce hit a three, and the clouds seemed to part a bit.  With 4:26 left in the half, the Pacer lead was 36-29.

Jermaine did some better acting and Battie was called for his third foul.  He missed his free throws.  How can you complain about not getting calls when you don't hit your free throws??  By the way, to this juncture, The Pacers were 10-12, whilst Boston was 4-7 at the line.  Not exactly a cause for complaint for the Pacers.

Pierce fed Blount inside for two more, but the C's were still moving far too slowly on offense.  Kenny Anderson hit a sky hook as a drove past the hoop.  The half ended with the Pacers leading it, 48-34.


HALFTIME:

Either the Celtics were actually playing better than I'm giving them credit for, or the Pacers didn't take full advantage.  This game should, by all rights, have been a total blowout by halftime.  The C's were not consistently doing any of the things they needed to to to stay competitive, never mind win.

The halftime stats told me the game was closer in some ways than it first looked.  Boston shot 14-43 from the floor, while Indiana was 17-34.  The Pacers made more shots, but the C's had actually gotten more looks.  Boston had a 13-9 lead in assists and led 8-4 in steals.  But the Pacers countered with 11-14 from the line and Boston was only 4-7.  The Pacers also led in rebounds, 27-19, and in Bench points, 13-10.  But the turnovers were in Boston's favor, only 7 against 10 for Indiana.

The Pacers were playing very well, but weren't quite putting the C's away completely.  The Celtics needed to wake up and play the game, or it was going to be an even longer second half.  O'Neal had been a monster in the first half, with 21 points and a full head of steam, as no one on the Celtics seemed able to stop him without the use of firearms.  The C's needed to find Baker better in the second half, as he only had 6 points. 

Hmp.  Last season, 6 points was better than Baker's season average.  How quickly I forget.


Third Quarter:

The C's did better ball movement on their first possession, and Kedrick hit an open three off a Piercepass as a result.  Then Battie drew the charge--which the Pacers' broadcast team called a flop. 
When O'Neal got the ball, Battie was right behind him, in good position and clearly outside the semicircle.  Going in slow motion, with a perfect view, it was clear that O'Neal had dipped his shoulder and moved up into Battie, who had maintained his established position.  Jermaine knocked Tony down and properly got called for it.  That's not a flop, and O'Neal had his third foul. 

There was a weird happening at the other end, as Pierce had the ball and somehow lost his left sneaker as he began to drive to the hoop with a sharp turn at the top of the key.  It looks like one of the Pacers had stepped on his foot as Pierce went around him.   Pierce didn't even know until he put the left foot back on the floor and slid, losing control of the ball as he went down.  That's how fast it happened.  Artest took a long pass to complete a fast break hoop in the other direction.  The C's took a 20-second timeout to take re-sneaker Pierce's foot properly.

Battie started hitting clutch shots, the first off a pass from Vin Baker.  The outside jumper is not normally the shot I want to see Tony trying--I prefer him working close to the hoop--but he looked good under pressure from the defense and the time clock.  The Pacers started committing more turnovers and were looking less smooth than they had in the first half. 

Speaking of flops, O'Neal did a nice one, dropping like gravity had doubled after brushing against Tony Battie.  Funny, I don't remember Tony complaining about cheap fouls after the game.  But the Pacers threw the ball away on yet another turnover.

Pierce went to the floor twice in succession to go after the loose ball, and the second time, pushed it out to Battie.  Tony's first attempt missed, but he got his own rebound, and made good on the second try.  I was just thrilled that someone on the C's was successfully rebounding!

The announcers made fun of Tony, joking about Battie having "one of his great offensive nights", then laughing and saying "You've gotta be kidding me!"  Low class, guys, those Pacer announcers, and Quinn--as a former Celtic player--should know better.

The C's had it within nine, until Miller hit another shot.  Then Mike James hit a deep two in response.  Foster hit a deep two of his own.  Baker had a good look, but iot didn't drop.  By the way, when you look at Baker's shooting percentage, keep in mind he didn't force his offense.  His shots looked good and just didn't drop.  None of them looked wild, or poorly shot.  The Pacer defense was definitely paying a lot of attention to Vin.

Then Jermaine O'Neal picked up his fourth foul--offensive--against Tony Battie when O'Neal clearly used his extended left arm to push Battie away.  I studied this a couple of times in light of Jermaine's post game carping.  Jermaine got caught playing a physical offense--in honesty, these are the kind of  calls the C's didn't get favored with last season, and I was pleasantly surprised to see it happen here.  O'Neal had to sit with four fouls and 7:22 left in the third quarter.  It's interesting to note that the Pacers broadcast chose a replay angle that was much worse than the original shot, and masked the fact that Jermaine's arm was hitting Tony's neck.

This was huge for the Celtics.  O'Neal was the only real shot blocker the Pacers had tonight.  The Celtics now had an opportunity to break past the Indiana defense--if they went to the hoop.

They did, as Pierce drove in for two like he'd just been liberated.  Then the C's mounted a defensive stand that forced a turnover and the Good Guys were off and running.  Pierce took a wide open three and it looked and felt good all the way through the hoop.  Timeout was called with 6:31 left in the third and the score now 55-48, with the Pacers' lead considerably smaller than it had once been.

The Celtics defense forced the Pacers down to three seconds on the shot clock as Harrington made good on a tough shot.  But the C's defense was finally coming alive.

At the other end, Pierce got away with a walk, and fed Mike James for the open three.  I'm surprised Paul got away with that one, really--it looked kind of obvious to me.  But they're the Good Guys and the Pacers aren't.  Nyahh, nyahh!

Then Kenny Anderson committed a truly stupid turnover.  He was casually walking the ball back up, and lost the ball right at halfcourt.  He had to reach back to get it, and made the 8 second violation.  There was no pressure on him, he just lost the ball.  This was the kind of thing that bugged me about Kenny when he was here, and he's still not learned his lesson.  I expect the point guard to take better care of the ball.  Pierce made him pay on a drive to the hoop for two more.  Now it was 57-53 with 5:12 left in the third quarter.

The game looked a lot closer as the C's finally put some speed on--not a true running game yet, but a definite improvement.  Likewise, their defense was better than in the first half, beginning to make itself felt.

Kedrick worked hard for a rebound, but the C's lost the ball on an intercepted pass to Baker.  Foster saved it from out of bounds, but to me, it looked like both feet hit the baseline before he got rid of the ball.  But the ref didn't see it that way, so it was Pacer ball.  But Artest wasted the effort with a silly three that was rebounded by Vin Baker. 

Battie tried to pass in to Vin at the other end, but Vin didn't get a good handle on it.  The Pacer broadcast team tried to pass it off as good defense, but Vin just didn't handle the pass well.  Miller tried a deep three with the defense in his face, and missed.  At the other end, Vin Baker took the inside pass for the easy two, a play the C's had tried to run all night and finally started working. 

The Pacer fans wanted a goaltending call on a Blount rebound, but it was a clean sweep.  Boston was crashing the boards like they finally discovered their location on the court.  Harrington tried an outside jumper and Raef took the rebounded miss.  On those occasions the Pacers went inside, they got zip.

Eric Williams scored a basket that let the C's to cap a 14-5 run that put the C's within three, 60-57, with 1:18 left in the quarter.  But while the Celtics were slowly climbing back, Boston couldn't mount the kind of explosive scoring that would have put the game away early. 

The third quarter ended with a close game in progress and Indiana leading, 62-59 as Jiri Welsch hit a shot.   Ideally, the C's could make their push in the opening part of the final quarter and hold on for the win.  But it depended entirely on the defense holding up against a very good Pacers team, and Boston making the most of it's scoring chances.

With three quarters down, the C's shooting percentage  had risen to a respectable 40%, while dragging the Pacers down to 46%.  There was an incredible discrepancy in free throws, with Boston going 4-7 while the Pacers were 14-17.  Makes you wonder what Jermaine's been smoking.  Turnovers also favored Boston, which had only 11 to the Pacers' 16.

Fourth Quarter:

The C's unleashed the running game with the opening possession and Raef made the cleanup rebound for two, to make it a one point game.  Eric Williams was fouled going to the hoop, and went to the line to try to give the Good Guys their first lead since 2-0.  He missed both.  AAUGH!!

The Pacers weren't scoring, and the C's needed to strike NOW!  But time after time, the C's couldn't get the go-ahead hoop.  Eventually, someone had to score, I hoped, as both teams blew golden opportunities to score.  Raef did it from the corner, and with 9:02 left in the game, the C's led it at last, 63-62.  This was the fist Celtics lead since 2-0.

Indiana committed their 20th turnover and Mark Blount made them pay with a dunk.  Now the C's had the momentum.  James hit a three, and the C's lead was 68-62 with 7:59 left.  I can't credit the C's totally--to an extent, the Pacers were shooting themselves in both feet with turnovers and poor shooting.

Neither team could seem to score when opportunities presented themselves.  Blown dunks, missed free throws--and a few blown calls, conspired to keep either team from scoring well.  It was going to be a case of which team could put together an offensive run or a withering defensive stand.  But the Pacers were faring far worse, going over nine minutes without a field goal.  Jeff Foster broke that drought with 7:38 left in the game.

Pierce got so obviously whacked by Reggie Miller on his shot even the Indiana broadcasters had to acknowledge surprise at the non-call.  At the other end, Ron Artest took Raef's arm for a stroll and drew the foul against Raef for the "hook".  Jermaine O'Neal had come back in and missed his shot off the side in.  Eric Williams got a good look from the corner at the other end, but couldn't convert.  O'Neal tried an identical shot at the opposite end, with identical results.

Foster got a rebound he shouldn't have as he was one against four under the hoop.  Give the man credit, he got the job done there.  But he couldn't convert when he drove to the hoop at the other end.  His first free throw bounced out as Vin Baker came back into the game, then he made the second.

Timeout was called with 5:54 left in the game as a jump ball was called, and the score now 68-65 favoring the Good Guys.  Indiana took the jump, and missed another shot, with Baker getting the rebound Vin took a good hook shot, but the ball bounced out.  While neither team seemed able to score, the difference was that the Celtics were getting inside, and the Pacers were taking outside jumpers.  Their dependence on the outside jumper was hurting them now, but Boston wasn't able to capitalize on it. 

Then Anthony Johnson tied it up with a three with 4:15 left.  Eric Williams couldn't answer and the rebound got taken away from Blount.  Pierce took a charge but there was no call as Artest put in two more for Indiana.  Vin Baker got it back with a two, and the game was tied at 70 with 3:10 left.

The Pacers nearly committed another turnover, but got lucky as Jermaine O'Neal came back in for two more, and Indiana took the lead on his hoop.  Miller committed a foul and timeout was called with 2:53 left, and the C's down 72-70.  Following the timeout, Harrington committed a foul, but the Pacers--not surprisingly--were not in the penalty.  But James stepped out of bounds after the side in.  The C's defense stopped the Pacers, and Eric Williams drew the foul as he got the rebound.  He then converted the hoop at the other end, tying the game at 72 with 2 minutes left.

Harrington got it back as he squeezed in for a basket.  James hit a shot clock deep two--his foot was on the line.  Pierce rebounded Harrington's miss, and drew a foul on Harrington at the other end.  Pierce missed the first free throw, and made the second.  With 54.9 seconds left, the C's led 75-74.

When time came back in, the Pacers took the pumpkin inbounds.  Jermaine rattled in his second attempt after the C's stuffed him the first try.  With 31.8 seconds left, the Pacers led 76-75 as timeout was called.

After a Pacer foul by Harrington, Pierce went 1-2 at the line, and with 54.9 seconds left, Boston led 75-74.  Indiana called timeout, then came back in to score, as Jermaine O'Neal rattled in his own rebounded miss to give the Pacers a 76-75 lead. Boston called time with 31.8 seconds left to talk things over.

Following the timeout, the Pacers, as expected, doubled up on Pierce, trying to deny him any looks.  Pierce passed out of the double team to Vin Baker on the side.  Super Vin launched a jumper in Jermaine O'Neal's face that got nothing but net as with 20.8 seconds left, the C's led 77-76.  Now, it was up to the Celtics defense. 

Time came back in.  The Pacers surprisingly dribbled the length of the court, instead of passing up.  O'Neal's shot bounced softly off the rim, then out, and the C's retrieved the ball, with Mike James getting fouled with 0.7 seconds left and went to the line, making the first, and deliberately missing the second as time expired and the Good Guys won it, 78-76.

The funny thing is, the Celtics rebounded the ball in the form of Eric Williams, who negligently flipped up a one handed behind he back shot at the hoop that went in.  It looked awful close to being out of his hands before time expired, but it was a nonreviewable play, since it didn't affect the outcome of the game.

Mike James was interviewed by Quinn Buckner after the game, and it was interesting that he said that the C's need to learn where VIN likes the ball, and Paul likes the ball.  He said, "Paul is our go-to guy, but Vin is right up there with him.  I would be comfortable with the ball in either one of their hands at the end of the game."

Vin Baker has officially become a primary offensive option for the Celtics.

This was a game where the C's almost completely self-destructed in the first half, then got it together in the second half.  This time, there was no Isaiah Thomas to blame it on.  Rick Carlisle is unquestionably a good coach.  The Pacers simply fell apart--again.  This is why I've been maintaining that the Celtics are a better team.

I switched to the C's postgame, and Vin Baker was so confident, and so solid.  What a boost for Vin, to have a play drawn up for the winning shot.

Forget Ron Artest.

Vin Baker is the EC Player of the Week, as far as I'm concerned.

Cookies and Crumbs:

Cookies go to:

Vin Baker: 12 points on 5-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2-2 at the line and the GAME WINNING SHOT!

Paul Pierce: 19 points on 7-18 shooting, 3-4 from the arc, 6 rebounds, 9 assists, a steal and a block.  And it's hard to fault his offense in the first half when no one was doing so hot.

Tony Battie: 11 points on 5-8 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block.

Mike James: 11 points on 4-10 shooting, 2 rebounds and 5 assists.

Kedrick Brown: for his defense.

Eric Williams: 8 points on 4-10 shooting, and 7 rebounds.


Crumbs left for:

The Celtics play in the first half:  They let the Pacers dominate by not running as well as they should have.

Jermaine O'Neal:  I've seen Pierce take some shots that should have been flagrants and he rarely complains.  Jermaine acts like the officials owe him something.  Here's a hint, Jermaine--if you don't want to be called for a foul, don't commit the foul.

The Pacer broadcast team:  bleah.


No rest for the weary as the C's go right back home to face the Chicago Bulls.

And that's the view from the doghouse.