PHOENIX (AP)—Jermaine O’Neal once was the youngest player ever to appear in an NBA game. Seven years later, he’s one of the best, and still barely 25 years old.
“What can you say?” coach Rick Carlisle said. “He made every play.”
O’Neal made five of six shots for 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots in the fourth quarter. Reggie Miller added a pair of 3-pointers in the final quarter and finished with 15 points. Al Harrington added 18 points, four in a 9-0 run that put Indiana up for good.
The Pacers, who bounced back from a 99-77 Sunday night loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles, have won nine of 10 and, at 15-3, have the NBA’s best record.
“This was probably the most important game of our season so far,” O’Neal said. “Last night was probably the biggest game because it’s the Lakers and it’s in their gym. But this is the most important game. Even when we got behind, we showed a lot of maturity. Maybe the last couple of years, we don’t win this game.”
Indiana, without Ron Artest because of back spasms, trailed by as many as 11 in the first half but took control with the 9-0 spurt to go up 72-64 on O’Neal’s inside shot with 7:49 to play. Miller sank a 3-pointer and Harrington scored four in the run.
“This was probably our best win of the year for a lot of reasons,” Carlisle said. “It’s our sixth game in eight nights. We were coming off a disappointing performance last night. We don’t have one of our top players.”
Shawn Marion, back from a sprained ankle that sidelined him for two games, scored 15 for Phoenix. Stephon Marbury had 14 points and 10 assists but went just 4-of-15 from the field. Scott Williams was 6-for-6 shooting for 13 points. Amare Stoudemire scored 11.
The Suns have lost three of four.
“Right now we’re in a nasty funk,” Marbury said. “The only people that can get us out of it is ourselves.”
Marbury said the Suns simply aren’t the exciting, active team they were last season.
“Right now we’re in a nasty funk. Offensively we can’t get nothing going,” he said. “We play totally different than we played last year. Last year there was a lot of cutting, a lot of movement, a lot of back door.”
Marion’s fast-break stuff to cut the lead to 74-70 with 5:52 to play. But Anthony Johnson’s layup and Miller’s 3-pointer boosted it to 79-70 with 4:55 left.
After Phoenix cut it to 79-73, O’Neal blocked Stoudemire’s rebound shot, then ran the court, sank a fast-break layup and was fouled for a three-point play that made it 82-73 with 2:52 to go.
“They certainly took it to us in the fourth quarter,” Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said.
Rookie Leandro Barbosa’s scored seven in a 22-7 run that put Phoenix up 37-26 on his 3-pointer with 7:58 left in the first half. Moments later, Barbosa was fouled and crashed to the floor on a drive through the lane.
He stayed in the game to shoot the free throws, missed them both, then left with a bruised back and did not return.
Indiana scored the next 12 that ended when Miller made a free throw after Marbury was called for a technical foul, and the Pacers led 38-37 with 4:49 to play until halftime.
The game was tied at 44-all at the half, and neither team led by more thanthree points in the third quarter. Phoenix led 62-61 entering the fourth.
O’Neal’s points and blocked shots were season highs. His career-best for blocked shots is 10. … Jamaal Tinsley was not with the Pacers because of personal reasons. … Indiana has three more stops on its five-game trip through the Pacific Division. The Pacers are at Portland on Wednesday night. … Marion had played in 65 consecutive games before missing last Wednesday’sDallas contest.