Rockets 78, Pacers 74
That balance offset O’Neal’s 31 points and three blocks, handing Indiana its first loss in six games and just the second in 14.
“We’ve just got to do enough to win, and tonight we did,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
The Pacers have spent the entire season at the top of the Eastern Conference thanks to their depth and balance. Both were sorely lacking against the Rockets.
O’Neal was the only Pacer in double figures, going 12-for-25 from the floor. His teammates were 16-for-51.
“Jermaine played a heroic game,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said.
The news wasn’t all bad for Indiana. Minnesota’s 80-79 win over Detroit means Carlisle will coach the East squad at the All-Star game in Los Angeles on Feb. 15.
“It’s a great honor,” Carlisle said. “One that’s greatly appreciated because it doesn’t happen that often.”
It will also mark the second time in All-Star game history that a different head coach from the same NBA team will lead the All-Star squad in consecutive years.
Isiah Thomas coached the East last year, then was fired during the summer after the Pacers failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
Philadelphia’s Gene Shue coached the East All-Stars in 1977, and Billy Cunningham in ’78.
O’Neal’s superior play kept Indiana in the game. He drove past Yao and scored to tie it at 73 with 2:16 to play.
But Yao scored five of his 17 points in the final 4:15 and Houston went 6-for-6 from the free throw line to hold off the Pacers, who missed several opportunities to tie or take the lead in the closing moments.
O’Neal missed a free throw that would have tied it and a desperation 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down in the last 30 seconds.
Mobley corralled the loose ball and hit both free throws.
“In a game like this, you know it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter and the free throw line,” Mobley said. “We got in a situation where we were able to hit ours and Jermaine missed one of his.”
With one more shot to tie, an errant inbounds pass went over Reggie Miller’s head and out of bounds.
“We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole,” said Miller, who scored six points. “It was a combination of our poor shooting and their good defense.”
Ron Artest, Indiana’s second-leading scorer, continued to struggle from the floor while playing with an injured left thumb.
Artest scored nine points on 3-of-18 shooting. He’s 15-for-50 in the last three games while playing with his left (non-shooting) thumb heavily wrapped.
Carlisle said before the game that Artest would not play, but 30 minutes before tipoff, Artest said he was OK.
“I don’t have any doubt he was affected by the injury,” Carlisle said. “He showed why he’s a big-time gamer and should be an All-Star this year. By coming out and playing, he showed a lot of heart.”
But the Rockets showed all the balance, and were elated to get a win on the road against the team with the most wins in the NBA.
“For us to come in and beat a team like Indiana, hopefully this will get usover the hump,” Francis said.
Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner was an honorary captain. … Recently signed Rockets G Mark Jackson got a nice ovation when he entered in the second quarter. Jackson led the Pacers to three consecutive Eastern Conference finals and the 2000 NBA Finals. … Miller played in his 1,287th game, moving him ahead of Sam Perkins for ninth on the NBA’s career list. …Houston improved to 4-13 when trailing after the first period.