INDIANAPOLIS (TICKER) —Jermaine O’Neal got untracked in the third period and the reserves took care of things in the fourth quarter.
O’Neal added 10 rebounds and eight blocks in another big game. On Wednesday, the All-Star power forward had a triple-double with 10 blocks in a win over Toronto.
After scoring just three points in the first half, O’Neal made 5-of-7 shots in the third period, when the Pacers took the lead for good. He was 9-of-16 from the field and added two steals.
“When I got here today, I was questionable with back spasms,” O’Neal said. “I wanted to just get out there and do what I could. My teammates kinda helped gas me on, mentally trying to get me going. They were telling me to give what I could give and contribute. I really started to set the pace in the third quarter.”
Indiana took an 83-78 lead into the fourth quarter and pulled away with a 14-2 run. Reserves Al Harrington and Ron Mercer each had a pair of baskets, collaborating on an alley-oop play that Mercer hammered home for a 97-80 lead with 6:39 to go.
“We always feel we can step up in the third and fourth quarters,” Pacers guard Reggie Miller said. “You saw tonight why we are one of the best defensive teams in the league.”
Harrington and Ron Artest scored 17 points apiece for the Pacers, who improved their league-best home record to 21-1. Overall, they have won three in a row and nine of 11.
“Winning is a habit,” Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. “It’s a saying we have on this team. I think Vince Lombardi said it.”
“The biggest difference in this team compared to last year’s is that we have really learned how to buckle down and defend and how to execute in the second half,” O’Neal said.
Elton Brand collected 17 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his first career triple-double for the Clippers, who have dropped 10 straight visits to Indianapolis dating to January 8, 1992.
“That’s a great team,” Clippers coach Alvin Gentry said. “Isiah is doing a great job of defining roles.”
With O’Neal struggling and Corey Maggette and Lamar Odom boosting the offense, the Clippers forged a 58-58 halftime tie. But Reggie Miller’s free throw opened the third quarter, and the Pacers never trailed again.
O’Neal missed his first two shots of the third quarter but got it going after getting to the line for a pair of free throws. He made consecutive jumpers to widen Indiana’s lead to 76-69 with 4:31 remaining. He hit another jumper to close the quarter at 83-78.
“Jermaine O’Neal shows why he’s a starting forward for the All-Star team,” Gentry said. “He’s really improved his game. That is what hard work gets you.”
Los Angeles went over four minutes without a basket to start the fourth quarter. Rookie Marko Jaric ended the drought with a fast-break layup that cut the deficit to 89-80 with 7:50 remaining.
But Mercer made a spin move for a basket and reserve guard Erick Strickland sank a 3-pointer and free throw before Mercer’s dunk capped the run. The Clippers got no closer than the final margin.
“I saw Ron point to the sky as he came across the hash(mark),” Harrington said. “I really didn’t think about it but I just automatically tossed it up. I thought I had thrown it too high, but he really went up and got it.”
Maggette scored 25 points and Odom added 14 for the Clippers, who shot 43 percent (38-of-89). They shot just 36 percent in the second half.
“We just didn’t execute, especially in the third and fourth quarters,” Brand said. “That’s been our Achilles heel all season.”