PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; Pacers lead 1-0.
After leaving the Indiana bench when he shouldn’t have in the series opener, Ron Artest will be stuck there in Game 2.
With the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year suspended, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics may get a little more room to work on offense when they try to even their best-of-seven series against the Pacers.
Artest was both honored and sanctioned by the league on Monday, as he received a one-game suspension and was named the league’s top defensive player.
Artest, who played a huge role in Indiana’s dominating 104-88 win in Game 1 Saturday, was suspended for Game 2 for leaving the bench during a confrontation.
With 8:01 left in the second quarter, Artest briefly left the bench when he saw teammate Jermaine O’Neal thrown to the floor by Boston’s Brandon Hunter. The forward started onto the court when he saw O’Neal lose his composure, but turned and headed back to the bench after about four steps.
“It’s a rule. The NBA has rules you have to abide by,” Artest said. “It’s a learning experience, and I’ll just have to get back at it (in Game 3) on Friday.”
Always drawing the opposing team’s best perimeter scorer, Artest finished third in the league with 2.08 steals a game, including a career-high eight steals against Dallas on March 24.
The team’s second-leading scorer averaged 18.3 points during the regular season.
Losing Artest will be a big blow to the top-seeded Pacers. He scored 24 points and shut down Pierce for the final three quarters of the Pacers’ easy win.
Pierce scored 11 points in the first quarter, but Artest didn’t let him get free for the rest of the game. Artest held Pierce to 1-for-10 shooting in the final three periods.
With Artest sidelined, Al Harrington will need to play a bigger role.
Harrington added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Pacers, a strong statement to those who questioned his playoff capabilities. Harrington averaged just 3.0 points in last season’s first-round loss to Boston, the Pacers’ third straight early playoff exit. He fought off back spasms to give a complete effort on both ends of the floor.
“He’s one of those players that people don’t really talk about, but I think they should,” O’Neal said. “He’s the X-factor for us in the playoffs.”
Saturday’s foul seems to have added an increased measure of intensity to the series. The coaches for both teams have had strong words about the incident.
“They had a young, strong player throwing an MVP candidate on the floor, and it looked like he was doing it intentionally,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “I reacted and our team reacted. I think that raised their level of angst a little bit.”
Celtics coach John Carroll strongly denied that Hunter was being used to provoke O’Neal.
“Rick’s entitled to say what he wants to say,” Carroll said. “That’s his choice. That’s his opinion. I’m disappointed in those kinds of quotes. People don’t know me very well if they insinuate that.”
The Celtics are just 2-10 in playoff series when losing Game 1 of a best-of-seven on the road.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Celtics - 1st seed. Pacers - 8th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 20 ppg and 10 rpg; Pierce, Atkins and Welsch, 4 apg. Pacers - Artest and O’Neal, 24 ppg; O’Neal, 11 rpg; Tinsley, 7 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 3-1. O’Neal was held to a total of 12 points in the last two games of the series after averaging 23 in the first two. Pierce averaged 20.5 points per game for the Celtics, whose lone win came on Nov. 11, 78-76 at Indiana.