Nobody can blame the Indiana Pacers for being happy to be home.
Awaiting punishment from the league, and possibly the Auburn Hills, Mich., police, for their role in one of the ugliest incidents in NBA history, the Pacers will try to focus on basketball when they shoot for their fourth straight victory against the Orlando Magic.
The Pacers are coming off an abbreviated 97-82 victory at Detroit on Friday. The win over the defending NBA champions was tainted when a wild melee erupted with 45.9 seconds remaining, forcing the game to be stopped.
The brawl began when Detroit’s Ben Wallace went in for a layup and was fouled hard by Ron Artest from behind. Wallace wheeled around and pushed Artest in the face. The benches emptied and there was pushing and shoving.
As the players restrained each around center court, Artest relaxed on the scorer’s table. Just when it appeared tempers had died down, Artest was struck by a full cup thrown from the stands. He jumped up, and charged into the crowd, throwing punches as he climbed over seats. Teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal could also be seen slugging fans as the fight spread back onto the floor.
“I felt like I was fighting for my life out there,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’m sorry the game had to end this way.”
The Pacers finally got back to their locker room after getting showered with beverages and snacks, and left the arena without comment.
The NBA suspended Artest, O’Neal and Jackson indefinitely. Commissioner David Stern called the event “shocking, repulsive and inexcusable—a humiliation for everyone associated with the NBA.”
The league issued a statement saying it was reviewing rules and security procedures “so that fans can continue to attend our games unthreatened by events such as the ones that occurred last night.”
Artest finished with 24 points, and Jermaine O’Neal added 20 and 13 rebounds for the Pacers, who are already dealing with several injuries.
Auburn Hills police are also investigating the incident to see if any criminal charges will be filed.
The Magic have won two of their last three, including a 107-92 home victory over Utah on Wednesday. Steve Francis had 33 points and 11 assists, and the rejuvenated Grant Hill added 32, his most points in 4 1/2 years.
Ankle injuries sidelined Hill after he signed with Orlando before the 2000-01 season, limiting him to 47 games in four years.
“I feel like I’m continuing to get better every day at practice and every game, and just really kind of showing my teammates what I can do,” said Hill, who added five rebounds and five assists while playing a season-high 41 minutes. “And doing it, hopefully, day in and day out.”
Hill is averaging 22.6 points on 50 percent shooting in 23 career games against the Pacers.
Guard Cuttino Mobley, who missed his fourth straight game with a strained groin, hopes to play Saturday.