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  • Game info: 7:30 pm EDT Tue May 3, 2005

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; tied 2-2.

Even though the Boston Celtics didn’t have Antoine Walker available, they played perhaps their best game of the season the last time out to even their playoff series with the Indiana Pacers.

On Tuesday, the Celtics hope the return of Walker to the lineup will move them closer to advancing to the next round as they host the Pacers in Game 5.

Walker was suspended for Game 4 for grabbing an official during the Celtics’ 99-76 loss in Indianapolis on Thursday night. The Pacers took a 2-1 lead in the first-round series with the win.

Walker fouled Indiana forward Jermaine O’Neal hard in Game 3 and sparked an altercation. Walker was ejected for his second technical foul and, during the confrontation, grabbed referee Tom Washington by the arm and tried to move him out of the way.

Boston coach Doc Rivers was forced to alter his lineup without Walker in Game 4, and he went small by starting Ricky Davis in Walker’s place and Delonte West in place of Tony Allen.

The moves paid off as Boston blew out the Pacers 110-79 on Saturday to even the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

Paul Pierce finished with 30 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots, Davis broke out of a shooting slump with 15 points and West had 14 despite spending most of the game in foul trouble.

“We said, ‘Let’s treat this game like an elimination game,’ “ Pierce said. “We did, and now we’ve got the momentum back.”

Boston shot 56.8 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from 3-point range, limited the dangerous Pacers to an NBA playoff record-low of 26.9 percent from the field and handed Indiana its worst playoff loss since it joined the NBA in 1976-77.

“Doc made some great lineup adjustments,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “They wanted to bring speed to the game, and they really blew by us right from the beginning almost until the very end.”

Rivers, however, said he wouldn’t stick with the same combination for Game 5.

“Antoine will be right back in his spot the next game, I can tell you that,” he said.

Walker was the catalyst after returning to Boston at the trading deadline, averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 24 games to lead the Celtics to the Atlantic Division title. He is averaging 15.3 points, 7.0 boards and 3.0 assists in the playoffs.

Only three Pacers reached double figures in scoring in Game 4. Stephen Jackson had 24 points, but Reggie Miller had the next-best total with 12 and James Jones added 11.

Boston, in contrast, had all five starters score at least 11 points, led by Pierce, who shot 10-for-15 from the field and scored 23 points in the first half.

“Their sheer athleticism really got us,” Carlisle said. “They played this well without Walker. If they had played with Walker, it may have been worse, who knows.”

Game 6 is Thursday in Indianapolis, and if necessary, Game 7 will be back in Boston on Saturday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pacers - 6th seed. Celtics - 3rd seed.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Pacers - F O’Neal, F Jackson, C Dale Davis, G Miller, G Anthony Johnson. Celtics - F Walker, F Pierce, C Raef LaFrentz, G West, G Gary Payton.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - Miller, 20.0 ppg; O’Neal, 6.8 rpg; Johnson, 6.8 apg. Celtics - Pierce, 23.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg; Pierce and Payton, 5.0 apg.

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