Pacers 99, Celtics 98
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Ron Artest has made his case for the NBA All-Star team.
The Indiana forward was not voted a starter by the fans on Thursday, but his performance in the Pacers’ 99-98 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night might be enough to sway league coaches, who also vote players onto the team.
Artest had 23 points, five steals and a late stop on Paul Pierce, whose 3-pointer with 25 seconds left rallied the Celtics from a 13-point deficit.
A Pacers shot clock violation turned the ball over to Boston a possession later. The Celtics tried to set up a play for Pierce in the halfcourt after a timeout, but Artest’s suffocating defense forced Walter McCarty into a bad pass and prevented Pierce from getting in position for a catch and shoot.
Artest’s efforts helped extend a three-game winning streak for the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers (35-13).
“The play was supposed to go to me,” said Pierce, who finished with 24 points after picking up three fouls in the first half. “It was going to be a short pass and I was going to be able to get a shot off.
“The pass was off just a little bit. I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.”
Artest, who finished fourth in the All-Star balloting at forward, said he didn’t do anything special to shut down Pierce on Saturday.
“I just played regular defense and tried to stay with him wherever he went,” he said. “It was maybe a little extra effort but not any more than I try to bring to the table every night.”
Ricky Davis shouldered much of the early scoring load for the Celtics (22-27), scoring 18 points in the first half to deferring to Pierce.
Davis finished with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, while McCarty added 15 for the Celtics, now 0-3 since John Carroll took over as interim coach Jan. 27.
Artest was just as assertive for the Pacers. He hit three 3-pointers in a 43-point first quarter Indiana, which opened the game on 72 percent shooting and briefly flirted with the team record for most points in a quarter.
They finished with 43—two short of the record established against San Antonio on Jan. 2, 1991.
Al Harrington led Indiana with 27 points, helping to make up for the loss of leading scorer Jermaine O’Neal, who left in the second quarter what team officials described as a neck strain. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said O’Neal is listed as day-to-day.
The All-Star forward appeared to grab his right shoulder after blocking a shot from Davis with 5:47 left.
“He’s sore and walking around with a stiff neck,” Carlisle said. “He took a pretty good shot.”
The play gave O’Neal 700 blocks for his career, making him only the fourth Pacer to have reached that milestone.
Boston, which trailed 59-53 at halftime, went on a 6-0 run in the thirdquarter capped by McCarty’s 3-pointer to pull a 66-all tie with 5:22 to go.
The Pacers activated Kenny Anderson, on the injured list since Dec. 24 with a sprained right calf. Jamison Brewer was placed on the injured list Saturday with a sprained right big toe. Carlisle said Brewer’s injury happened in Friday’s practice. … Czech native Jiri Welsch was a teammate of Pacerscenter Primoz Brezec on the Olimpija Ljubljana team in the Slovenian League.