Pacers 107, Knicks 86
INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—When Isiah Thomas was fired as coach of the Indiana Pacers in August, he told everyone that the team was ready for a run at the NBA championship.
Artest had 26 points and O’Neal had 20 points and nine rebounds to lead Indiana to a 107-86 win over New York in Thomas’ return to Conseco Fieldhouse.
Thomas attended a game at the arena for the first time since being fired as Pacers coach in August. He replaced Scott Layden in December, immediately injecting life into a listless franchise with trades for Stephon Marbury, Nazr Mohammed and Tim Thomas.
But the new-look Knicks were no match for the Pacers.
“In the back of my mind, I knew he was back there watching me, so I tried to be impressive,” O’Neal said.
O’Neal scored 10 points during a 14-4 run to open the fourth quarter that put the Knicks away. It also helped the Pacers bounce back from an embarrassing 79-61 loss at Detroit on Sunday that left many wondering whether the Pistons had leapfrogged Indiana as the team to beat in the East.
“As a team coming off a very disappointing loss against Detroit, we wanted to get back on a winning note,” said Reggie Miller, who scored 10 points.
Jamaal Tinsley also was strong for the Pacers in his first action in five games. Tinsley missed four straight with a viral sinus infection. The Pacers went 2-2 without their starting point guard, but his return energized them on both ends of the floor.
He had 10 points, nine assists and five steals, and Jeff Foster added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Obviously we have a different look when he’s in there,” Miller said of Tinsley. “His penetration, his pick-and-roll, his floor vision and his floor generalship is fantastic. We’re glad he’s back.”
Mohammed led New York with 20 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. The Knicks turned the ball over 20 times and followed up 59-percent shooting in the first quarter with 28 percent in the second.
The loss reduced the Knicks’ lead over Boston to a half-game for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“This is an embarrassing loss,” Marbury said.
O’Neal, who has been battling a knee injury for the last two weeks, got better as the game wore on. He threw down an alley-oop dunk and a breakaway dunk on consecutive possessions, then hit two free throws to give Indiana a 94-69 lead with just over seven minutes to play.
His availability for Wednesday night’s game in Toronto is in question. The Pacers are trying to avoid giving their star heavy minutes in back-to-back games to reduce wear and tear on his bruised left knee.
“Luckily we didn’t have to play him huge minutes tonight,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “That may help us for tomorrow night.”
Mohammed scored nine points in the first quarter. His two free throws with seven minutes to play in the period gave New York a 13-10 lead, but that was the last time the Pacers would trail.
Kurt Thomas helped fuel an 8-0 run late in the third quarter that pulled New York within nine points. Artest responded with eight points in the final two minutes of the period.
“We’ve got to be consistent the whole game, against every team we play,”
Pacers F Austin Croshere played 11 minutes despite a bout with the flu. He missed practice Monday and was listed as doubtful for the game. … Tim Thomas was given a technical foul in the second quarter after arguing that Scot Pollard elbowed him in the face. … Knicks F Vin Baker got a technical with10:11 left in the fourth.