Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh.
Coach O'Brien is a classy guy, so we know he didn't get back to his hotel room, call his wife and say, "Tell your daddy he's WRONG AGAIN!!!" Walker and Pierce have a modicum of decorum, so I suppose they'll hold off on draping Isiah's car with TP. The Celtics as a group don't want to give the Pacers ammunition whilst there are games left to be played. That leaves people like me. If the Pacers are reading this, well...
Like I said, "Nyahh, nyahh, nyahh." :>)
Both teams came out playing hard, no doubt haunted by what the Nets had just done to Milwaukee in the New Jersey woodshed. Nobody's giving up 20-point leads HERE, nope. The Pacers won the tip and I was pleased to see the C's working hard on the offensive boards, even though the PAcers eventually got the ball to Tinsely for three. Pierce was short on his shots as the game started, but I saw his teammates under the hoop for potential rebounds.
The Pacers built an early 4-0 lead in less than a minute, despite the C's paying attention to things like rebounds. I was particularly heartened to see Tony Delk make sure he was properly set before shooting a three off a Battie rebound. Eric Williams and Tony Battie looked to be the early ones out the gate as the C's built a lead of their own. The Celtics hadn't quite got the hang of the fast break yet, but they were playing better than they had in ages, as far as effort and smart basketball. The only unexpected problems came from, of all people, Pierce. He was getting open looks early on, and not hitting well. The Pacers, on the other paw, were shooting well, even on contested shots.
Eric Williams made what became an important contribution early on, as he kept drawing Pacers players into fouls. This put Brad Miller on the bench for a good part of the game, and set the tone for early fouls on other Pacer players. He also hit his free throws, a fact that would be largely unnoticed in the face of what was to happen later. Through the first 6 minutes of the quarter, the Celtics played even with the Pacers. When timeout was called with 6:25 left, the score was 18-17, Boston leading.
It looked like this would be a close game all the way, if this was any indication.
Tony Battie was extremely active off the boards at both ends, making himself nearly indispensible to the C's hopes of beating the Pacers. Walker made a VERY smart play, as the ball was going out of bounds, slamming it off O'Neal's leg. Antoine made a number of smart plays at both ends as the game progressed. The refs initially seemed to be calling things Boston's way, always a danger sign. :>))
But Pierce kept seeming out of synch, somehow, I wasn't sure why. I was worried about his ability to contribute just when we really needed him. Then he started going to the free throw line, and I knew he was going to be ok. He calmly sank his free throws, with a sure and easy stroke. He hasn't looked that comfy at the line since last year. I knew it was just a matter of patience--perhaps lots of it, they do like to keep things exciting--before Pierce got going.
But I was really glad to see three and sometimes four Celtics going up for rebounds. The only problem was, they sometimes left other Pacer players open, as Artest and O'Neal, among others, looked for their shots.
As the clock wound down, the Celtics closed the gap, as Pierce went to the line again on a made basket. His field goal attempts often looked bad, but his free throws were so smooth, I knew he was going to be ok, sooner or later. But the last shot of te quarter for both teams missed, as the Pacers led at the end of one, 29-26.
The second quarter needed Rod Serling to call the plays, it was that weird. Someone, please--tell Tom Tolbert we don't care what he thinks about Antoine Walker's butt. Of course, I don't care about 99% of what Tolbert says, but that's another matter.
The game played close, though Indiana kept the lead throughout. Then things got really weird, as Ron Artest and Tony Battie apparently were indistinguishable to the refs. With 9:48 left in the second, Tony Battie took down another rebound, directly under the basket, and was looking to pass the ball upcourt. Artest was behind him, just inside the lane. Battie chased everyone else away, and saw Artest come from Battie's left. So Tony swiveled left to protect the ball. He faked to the baseline behind him, and Artest took the bait, leaving him out of position and balancing on his right leg as Battie went the other way. Artest then lifted his left leg and tagged Battie in the face as Tony started up the court. Battie saw it coming and tried to duck under it, but there was no time. I replayed it in slow motion and there is absolutely no question that Artest lifted his leg up to block Battie, with no attempt--or frankly possibility--at the ball. Battie held one hand to his aching head, and passed the ball with the other, while wondering where the call was.
At this point, as the C's moved upcourt, someone on the C's probably should have called a 20-second timeout. The play was broken, and people were distracted by the assault and battery once again going uncalled for Boston. I swear, the C's need to borrow the helmets from the Bruins players. But the Pacers stopped the C's at the other end, and had a three on one lead by Artest against the somewhat groggy--and now annoyed--Battie. Artest took the ball up from the side of the lane, and Battie saw it coming, moving up to meet Artest in midair.
Again, in slow-motion, Battie clearly put up his left hand to swat at the ball. But Artest was slow, and Battie's hand slid over the top of the ball, and the ball clearly rolled down Battie's outstretched arm. Battie's right arm had come across to ease the brunt of impact, and that arm was held inside, straight, with no elbow jutting out. It was clearly not an offensive move of any kind. The ball finally rolled out from between Battie's arm and Artest's hand, which left nothing to brace Battie's left arm, except Artest's upper shoulder and head. Battie was obviously looking straight at the ball, and not at Artest.
As Artest fell toward the baseline, he nearly pulled Battie down with him. Jermaine O'Neal came up from behind Battie and shoved him forward, as Battie reached out and helped Artest up. The ref came in and quickly got between Battie and Artest. Artest then took a shot at the ESPN camera that caught all this.
And who was called for the only foul in these two plays?
Tony Battie, a "Flagrant 2", and gone for the game. I hope, when the League reviews this, that they realize that 1) Artest kicked Battie in the face, and 2) Battie was clearly going for the ball on the next play. Did Battie foul Artest? Yes, he did. But no way was it a flagrant and no chance it was a 2. Not after what Artest did. With any common sense, Artest will end up suspended for the next game and the League will apologize and correct Battie's foul.
Ok, back to the game.
The score was now 33-28 with 9:27 left in the second quarter. Mark Blount worked his way inside after free throws to rebound a Walker miss. The C's defense was spreading half the floor well, but the Pacers kept finding the open man on the weak side. Antoine was working in much closer than he normally does, with good results. The C's were trying to keep it close, and work around the Battie ejection.
But Jermaine O'Neal was getting some dynamite passes en route to the hoop, asn the C's were not really stopping the Pacer offense like they should have. Not that they didn't try--Indiana was just executing VERY well. The C's offense was bogging down a bit, largely by way of Pierce's off night shooting to this point. Later, we learned he'd been feeling sick most of the game. To his credit, Pierce looked for other ways to contribute until he could get his legs back under him.
But as the second quarter progressed, the Pacer lead kept growing a bit at a time. This, despite the C's rebounding well, and looking for the uptempo pass. Timeout was called with 5:28 ans the Pacers leading, 40-36. Following the timeout, the C's tried to close the gap, but couldn't quite catch the Pacers. The C's--and Pierce in particular--got good looks and didn't convert. The Pacers were converting, and taking advantage of the situation. The C's got the last shot of the first half, with 8.7 seconds left, and sent the pumpkin to Eric Williams, who nailed a shot clock three that was ruled good on review. That made the score 58-52, Pacers leading.
The C's had played well with the Pacers, despite the double problem of off shooting from Pierce and the loss of Battie. I felt they needed to do more of what they had done in the first half, keep involving other players, and move faster at both ends. They also needed to ratchet up the defense. I was betting the Pacers would choke in a close game, as they often did. Isiah wasn't good at strategizing last minute plays, and his team, except Reggie Miller, wasn't good at executing them anyway. (NOTE: on April 23, I corrected my typo that referred to Miller as "Reggie Lewis". My apologies to the Lewis family, and thanks to Lance, who pointed the error out to me.)
Statswise, The pacers shot 57% to the C's 44%. Indiana held a slim 21-20 rebounding edge--impressive without Battie. Indiana's 18-9 edge in fast break points was nullified by theior 12-6 edge in turnovers. The threes were about even, with Boston going 3-10, and the Pacers 3-8.
The C's opened the quarter with good ball movement, trying to get to Eric Williams, but by this time, the Pacers were wise and stuffed him. The Pacers were getting lots of offensive rebounds, despite a newfound awareness on the part of the Celtics of how important rebounds could be. The free throws, as the Pacers went to the line again, favored Indiana, which shot 14-19, whilst the Good Guys were 9-11. How little they knew...
The Pacers defense kept up with every move the Celtics made, forcing contested outside jumpers. Jermaine O'Neal was getting inside pretty easily, and only the fact that some of the shots were errant kept him from a monster game. Reggie Miller made his offensive contributions as well, helping the Pacers build the lead back into double digits. Walker was limping a bit after defending Ron Artest as Pierce went back to the line for two more. Antoine kept at it, though, playing tough defense.
Mark Blount showed he can still get up on the boards, and has potential to become a significant defensive factor with time. But Reggie Miller continued to make things difficult for the C's. Even though the C's shooting was bad, I was glad to see them making a greater effort as a team on the boards. It was obvious they needed to work on the concept, unfamiliar as it occasionally seemed. With 6:42 left in the quarter, the Pacers led 67-58.
Waltah made himself more lovable by hitting a deep three, only to watch Reggie get inside for two and the free throw. The Celtics weren't running the ball up like they had in the first half, and that gave the Pacers defense plenty of time to get ready for them. By contrast, the Pacers were steaming upcourt on nearly every possession. Onca again, Jermaine O'Neal was getting inside way too often.
J.R. Bremer got a taste of the playoffs as Ron Artest stripped him en route to an easy two. Pierce, by this time, was 3-18 from the floor, and the Pacers ran up the score as a timeout was called with 3:28 left and the score now 79-63.
The rest of the quarter was no better for Boston as the Good Guys struggled for points and the Pacers were getting points with sometimes ridiculous ease. Rather startlingly, the Celtics had only taken 12 three point shots the entire game to this stage, making 4 of them. Williams got stuffed again, making it clear the Pacers had figured this one out. The C's needed other scoring options, soon. The quarter ended with Indiana holding it's 79-69 lead, and looking like they were in command.
Even though the C's scored a paltry 17 points in the third quarter, they had also lowered the Pcaers scoring to 21 points after they had managed 29 points in the first and second quarters. Had the C's offensive game been more on track, the fourth quarter might not have needed heroics from the Celtics to get the win.
This is where the game would be decided. Would the Pacers choke and allow the C's to stage another dramatic playoff comeback, or would Indiana be able to assert a 1-0 lead over the Celtics?
Things opened up with Waltah rebounding a Harrington miss. Then Walker nailed a deep three. Indiana had a basket waved off on a foul before the shot. When they got the ball back inbounds, several shot attempts ended in a missed dunk as a foul was called on the C's. Bender went to the line, going 1-2. Then there was a weird turnover, as Walker tried to save the ball from out of bounds, but the ball hit the ref and bounced out. I'm just amazed they didn't bounce Walker, after the way they tossed Battie.
Indiana continued to go to the line, which was good, as they weren't getting anything from the field. Walker then hit a deep, deep, two--his toe was on the line. A Pacer miss led to a Celtics break, that ended over the backboard. Ron Artest hit a basket, one of the few scores by the Pacers. A steal led to a Pacer fast break, ending in a Walker foul. Timeout was called with 8:26 left, and the score 84-75, Indiana leading.
After the timeout, during which Coach O'Brien exhorted the tem to increase the defensive tempo and Walker got on his teammates to work harder in general, the C's did just that. Indiana was only able to score at the line, as their field goals stopped going in. Pierce went to the hoop, drained the shot, and drew the foul along the way. He made his eleventh straight free throw, and play continued.
Tony Delk ran his butt off trying to chase down a rebound,and managed to draw a foul on Artest, retaining possession of the ball. Then Artest got called for a defensive foul, his fifth, at the other end. Tony Delk celebrated with another three, as the Pacers called timeout with 6:38 left and the score now 88-81. The Celtics were closing the gap.
When time went back in, the Pacers still couldn't score from the field, and the Celtics were picking up every ball--loose or not--they got their paws on. Walker blew by the defense and got two more. At the other end, Pierce tore down a rebound and only an inexplicable foul call stopped him as the Pacers tripped him up on the way to the hoop.
The C's stumbled a bit, with Pierce missing a shot, adn Williams being called for a foul at the other end. The Pacers were glad to get to the line, as it kept them from an NBA record low for points in a quarter. Boston didn't allow any easy hoope, as Pierce picked up his fifth foul with 4:41 left by wrapping up Ron Artest.
Indiana got stuffed on an attempted dunk, then finally connected when Brad Miller hit for two, one of only two field goals in the final quarter to this point as timeout was called with 3:26 left and the score 93-85. At this time, Indiana had 3 timeouts left.
Pierce ignored the Pacer defense, and drew the foul on the way to the hoop. He hit both, keeping his record at the line as perfect as his field goal percentage was bad. Harrington then got called for an offensive foul for slamming Pierce to the floor. Then Pierce drew a foul against O'Neal on the way to the hoop, making another trip to the line for two. With 2:42 left, the score was now 93-89.
Pierce then stole the ball and went to the floor to keep it, getting a timeout. Walker then tipped in a Delk miss with 2:00 left, maing it a 93-91 game. Then Williams got called for a foul, as Brad Miller replaced Reggie Miller. Pierce nailed another three, and the score was 95-94 with 1:25 left, as the Pacers held the lead and the ball. The Pacers couldn't get a basket, but kept the ball with them as the clock was down to 66 seconds left.
After the timeout, O'Neal was stripped, and the ball went out of bounds off Boston. Indiana called timeout with 44.4 seconds left, and three seconds on the shot clock. Jermaine O'Neals shot was short, and as Pierce took the rebound, he was fouled by Ron Artest, who finally left the game he should have been ejected from two quarters previously, with six fouls.
Pierce went to the line with the chance to give Boston it's first lead since early in the game with 40.8 seconds left. He calmly sank both free throws, and the score was now 96-95 Boston. Indiana took possession, and Brad Miller went to the line for two, making both, with 32.0 seconds left as Indiana took the lead again as Reggie Miller left the game again.
When time came back in, the Celtics took the ball in, and Pierce was left alone at the arc for a three. Harrington's three bounced in and out, and Pierce was fouled with 7.5 seconds left as the C's now had a 99-97 lead. Two free throws later, it was 101-97. The Pacers took the ball up quickly, having run out of timeouts, and got a three courtesy of Tinsley. With 2.6 seconds left, Pierce was fouled again, as Brad Miller got his sixth. Pierce made free throws 20 and 21 to ice the game at 103-100, which is how the game ended after the Pacers tried a last desperation shot from Bender at halfcourt.
This was a great Celtics win, and took the homecourt advantage away from Indiana. Later, it was made known that the reason for Pierce's poor shooting--not just tonight, but over the last couple of weeks--was a bad cold. Walker played smart and hard all the way. Williams, Delk, Waltah--all made sound contributions. And it happened without tony Battie for over half the game. Now all they had to to was repeat their win on Monday.
And that's the view from the doghouse.