After struggling for most of the game, O’Neal had a blocked shot with 4.6 seconds left to secure Indiana’s 76-73 win over the Memphis Grizzles on Sunday.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle almost found himself backed into a difficult decision before the game. He nearly held out O’Neal, who has been bothered recently by sore feet, sore knees, a hip-pointer and a bruised right hand.
“It’s been one of those years where it’s been a challenge in every corner,” Carlisle said. “I tell the guys we’ve got to fight out of it.”
Instead, O’Neal played as much as he could and endured a dismal performance.
O’Neal, who began his career with the Trail Blazers, made just four of 15 shots and finished with 11 points, less than half his average. He also grabbed eight rebounds, was charged with five of the team’s 15 turnovers, and went 0-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter when the Pacers typically rely on him.
Stephen Jackson scored 19 points, including two 3-pointers, and had eight rebounds. The swingman is averaging 22 points in his last four games.
Randolph sat out due to recurring pain in his right knee that has plagued him since late December. Randolph missed his first game in three seasons on Jan. 1, and has sat out eight games since.
He decided to give the knee some rest with the All-Star break approaching. Coach Maurice Cheeks said he didn’t know when Randolph would return.
Van Exel was trapped near midcourt on the final possession before throwing a pass on the left sideline to Derek Anderson. He flipped the ball through a double-team back to Van Exel, who drained an off-balance 3-pointer from the left wing after going 7-for-40 over the past four games.
“Nick is the kind of player that can make shots like that at any time,” said Cheeks, whose team had lost three straight. “He can be 1-for-12 or 2-for-15 and still always be able to make that shot.”
Portland is concluding a four-game road trip.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 14): Trail Blazers - 4th place, 14 1/2 GB, Northwest Division. Pacers - 4th place, 7 GB, Central Division.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Trail Blazers - F Ruben Patterson, F Theo Ratliff, C Joel Przybilla, G Damon Stoudamire, G Van Exel. Pacers - F Jackson, F O’Neal, C Jeff Foster, G Reggie Miller, G Anthony Johnson.
TEAM LEADERS: Trail Blazers - Randolph, 18.9 ppg and 9.7 rpg; Stoudamire, 5.5 apg. Pacers - O’Neal, 26 ppg; Foster, 9.8 rpg; Jamaal Tinsley, 6.4 apg.
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: 1-1.
LAST MEETING: March 17; Pacers, 80-71. At Indianapolis, Ron Artest scored 21 points and Miller added 18 to lead the Pacers.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Trail Blazers - 8-19 on the road; Pacers - 13-12 at home.
INJURIES: Trail Blazers - C Ha Seung-Jin (back); F Shareef Abdur-Rahim (elbow); C Vladimir Stepania (knee); F Randolph (knee). Pacers - F Jonathan Bender (knee); G-F Michael Curry (hamstring); C John Edwards (quadriceps).