PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; Pistons lead, 2-1.
Ron Artest’s obscene gesture in Game 2 and Reggie Miller’s punt in Game 3 cost the Indiana Pacers a total of $15,000 in fines. Another poor performance in their Eastern Conference finals series with the Detroit Pistons could cost Indiana any realistic shot at reaching the NBA Finals.
The Pacers will try to maintain their cool and bounce back from consecutive losses to the Pistons when the teams play Game 4 of their best-of-seven series at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
After grinding out a 78-74 home win in Game 1, the Pacers have been frustrated by Detroit’s tenacious defense in each of the last two games. On Monday, Indiana lost its home-court edge when Detroit held on for a 72-67 win in a game that featured 19 blocked shots by the Pistons, including Tayshaun Prince’s flying stuff of Miller’s bid for a tying layup in the final minute.
Artest was slapped with a $10,000 fine following Game 2 after TV cameras caught him making a gesture with both hands after scoring a basket. Artest was held to 13 points on 5-of-21 shooting in 40 minutes before fouling out.
In Game 3 on Wednesday, Miller was held to three points after scoring 21 on Monday as the Pacers lost 85-78. He displayed his frustration by kicking the ball into the stands after the final buzzer, earning a $5,000 fine from the league.
The Pacers know that getting mad won’t mean a thing if they don’t get even Friday night.
“We have to come out and play a little bit harder than those guys,” said Jermaine O’Neal, who led Indiana in Game 3 with 24 points and nine rebounds. “We’ve got to win Game 4.”
O’Neal finished 7-of-17 from the floor, but the rest of the Pacers combined to go 18 of 55.
“You’ve got to be able to adjust in the playoffs. They’re going to take things away, and right now I don’t have a counter to their defense,” Artest said. “I’m trying to adjust to that.”
Making matters worse for Indiana was the re-emergence of Detroit power forward Rasheed Wallace, who guaranteed a win in Game 2, but managed just 10 points on 4-of-19 shooting at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Wallace, playing through a foot injury, looked like an All-Star on Wednesday, scoring 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including a key three-point play late in the fourth quarter.
“Rasheed has been doing a great job,” Detroit center Ben Wallace said. “Hes been hurting a little bit but he continues to go out there and bang and play through pain. Once I see a guy hurt and going out there and playing the way hes playing, it motivates me to pick my game up a little bit and go out there and try to do a little bit more.
“Rasheed has been playing great for us ever since he got here. He definitely made me and everybody on this team a little bit better.”
Despite their advantage, the Pistons know the Pacers will be hungry to even the series Friday. Indiana went 27-14 away from home this season, tying Minnesota for the best road record in the league.
“They’re going to play their best game by far,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “They’re a great road team, and I imagine we’ll see them at their highest level. If we don’t have our best effort, we’re in trouble.”
Game 5 will be Sunday in Indiana.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pacers - 1st seed; beat Boston Celtics 4-0, first round; beat Miami Heat 4-2, conference semifinals. Pistons - 3rd seed; beat Milwaukee Bucks 4-1, first round; beat New Jersey Nets 4-3, conference semifinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 20.1 ppg and 10.0 rpg; Tinsley, 5.8 apg. Pistons - Hamilton, 20.7 ppg; Ben Wallace, 14.2 rpg; Billups, 6.3 apg.