An easy stretch in the schedule has allowed the Indiana Pacers to respond to forward Jermaine O’Neal’s criticism with two straight wins. They have a good chance for a season-high third consecutive victory as the Pacers (19-16) take on the lowly Boston Celtics at TD Banknorth Garden on Wednesday.
This is the second meeting between the teams this season. The Celtics (12-21) routed Indiana on Nov. 15, 114-88, the second time the Pacers had been routed in a seven-day span that also featured a 117-91 loss to Washington on Nov. 8.
“Maybe these pieces don’t fit together,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said after the loss to Boston. “I still think that they can and I still think they do, but you have to bring the commitment, you have to bring unselfishness and you have to bring the passion.”
Carlisle’s sentiment resurfaced recently following O’Neal’s comments last weekend, when he called the Pacers “a very average team.” Indiana has since responded with a 100-93 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday and a 91-72 victory against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday.
Al Harrington, who spent two seasons with Atlanta, scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half, and O’Neal added 10 points, eight rebounds and four blocks.
“Al did a great job of finishing the game and being aggressive,” O’Neal said. “We knew that he wanted it playing against his old team, and we just fed off of him.”
The Pacers had just a 38-33 lead at the half, but a 20-5 run bridging the third and fourth quarters would break open the game and provide a 67-49 lead the Hawks would not overcome.
The team has benefited from playing two struggling teams in Atlanta and New Orleans - which have a combined 22 wins between them - and Boston is trying to overcome some recent woes as well.
The Celtics have alternated wins and losses in their last four games and are coming off an 87-79 loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Boston shot a season low 31.5 percent from the floor and committed 17 turnovers in losing for the eighth time in 10 games.
“We as a team, we understand that we dug ourselves in,” said Tony Allen, who led the Celtics with 21 points and a season-high nine rebounds. “In the first half we were flat. We have to go look at film, take constructive criticism, see what you can do to correct it.”
The final margin would have been bigger had Orlando not struggled from the field as well, shooting just 37.5 percent. But the Magic held a 54-38 lead at halftime, due in part to 10 fouls on the Celtics that resulted in 19 free throws for the Magic .
Leading scorer Paul Pierce - who averages 26.6 points - is not expected to return for Wednesday’s game after missing the previous nine due to a sore foot. The Celtics are 2-7 during that stretch and have been outscored in the seven losses by 10.8 points per game.
The Celtics have won four straight between the teams in Boston and five of the last six overall. Pierce was a big part of those wins, however, averaging 27.2 points in those six games.