O’Neal, who will start for the Eastern Conference in the All-Star Game on February 9, scored a season-high 33 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Pacers posted a 109-100 triumph over the Boston Celtics.
With coach Isiah Thomas and teammate Ron Artest disciplined by the league until after the All-Star break, O’Neal helped Indiana snap a two-game slide. He made 10-of-22 shots, converted 13-of-14 attempts from the line and eclipsed his previous season high of 31 points, set January 29 against San Antonio.
O’Neal’s career high is 38, established December 22, 2001 against Cleveland.
“We just played hard,” O’Neal said. “They made their runs but we stayed focused. … This team is deep enough. We found out tonight that the coaching staff is deep enough.”
Brendan Malone served as interim coach and was able to joke about the experience.
“I had a real good time,” he said. “It was fun. I didn’t realize, as a head coach, how long the game was. … I’m happy to get the (win), I only need 800 more to get into the Hall of Fame.”
“He coached a good game,” Reggie Miller said. “Brendan was on the line tonight. He knew when to call timeouts when we needed … he stepped up and did his job.”
Paul Pierce had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and Antoine Walker had 22, six and six, but Boston lost its third straight game. The Celtics also had a four-game winning streak against Indiana snapped.
“They are a good team, they are well coached,” Pierce said. “They hurt us on the interior with Brad Miller and Jermaine O’Neal. Thise are two All-Stars right there.”
Brad Miller had 10 points and six rebounds in the opening quarter as Indiana led 30-23 after 12 minutes. A layup by Ron Mercer extended the Pacers’ advantage to 37-27 with 9:22 left in the opening half.
Indiana was ahead 40-31 with 7:37 to go when Tony Battie buried a 10-pointer to ignite an 11-0 burst. J.R. Bremmer had a pair of 3-pointers in the spurt, including a 25-footer off a feed from Walker that put the Celtics ahead 42-40 with 5:07 remaining.
Reggie Miller then found Brad Miller for a 3-pointer - his only shot from beyond the arc in the contest - and Indiana never trailed. O’Neal had an offensive rebound and basket to give the Pacers a seven-point lead with 2:28 remaining and Indiana led 58-52 at the half.
Indiana shot just 40 percent (19-of-48) in the first half but made 16-of-17 free-throw attempts. The Pacers also held a 28-21 edge on the boards.
A layup by Jamaal Tinsley with 7:20 left in the third quarter gave Indiana a 72-59 cushion. Boston battled back and was within 78-73 following a free throw by Walter McCarty with 3:41 to go in the quarter but O’Neal took over from there.
Over the next 90 seconds he had a layup, a block, two offensive rebounds, a defensive rebound and two free throws as the Pacers extended their lead to 88-73 with just under two minutes to go.
Indiana outrebounded Boston in the quarter, 16-9, and made all nine of its free-throw attempts.
Boston, which was routed by Detroit, 118-66, on Friday, never got closer than seven over the final 12 minutes.
Indiana finished 32-of-33 from the free-throw line and had a 55-38 rebounding advantage.
“Too many rebounds and they were just too strong inside for us,” Boston coach Jim O’Brien said.
“The key was getting everyone in there (to rebound),” O’Neal added. “They shot a lot of threes and we needed everyone, even the guards, to chase rebounds.”