“You don’t want to mess up the chemistry,” O’Neal said after Tuesday’s 103-90 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of their playoff series. “You don’t want the opposing team to go on a run and beat you.”
After the starters struggled for the first three quarters against Boston, a group of reserves rescued the Pacers with a 21-3 run spanning the third and fourth quarters to give Indiana a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Croshere hit a 3-pointer at the close of the third period and Bender brought a boisterous crowd to its feet with a brilliant three-point play on a dunk in the fourth to give the Pacers a 72-69 lead.
Bender capped the run with a 3-pointer that gave the Pacers an 82-72 lead with 7:21 to play and left the Celtics feeling like an opportunity to steal a game was wasted. The series moves to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night.
“We all took this and placed it on our shoulders to turn this game around,” said Bender, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 27 points, but again struggled from the field despite the absence of Artest, the NBA’s defensive player of the year.
Al Harrington was the only “starter” on the floor during Indiana’s surge, and he is normally the team’s sixth man. He was filling in for Artest, suspended for one game by the NBA on Monday for leaving the bench during a confrontation in the Pacers’ Game 1 win.
Artest took just a few steps onto the court when O’Neal tangled with Boston rookie Brandon Hunter, but the league deemed it enough of an infraction to hand out the suspension.
Pierce figured to have an easier time with Artest out, but that wasn’t the case. He made just seven of 18 shots after going 5-for-18 in Game 1.
“It’s double frustrating,” Pierce said. “We had an opportunity to take a game when they didn’t have their best player on the court. We just unraveled.”
The Celtics again couldn’t find a way to compete with the Pacers for the full 48 minutes. The Pacers held two short leads in the first half as Boston forced nine turnovers and held a 19-6 advantage in fast-break points. Pierce hit five of 10 shots in the first half and scored 11 points as Boston took a 46-41 lead.
The Celtics led by as many as nine points well into the third quarter before the wheels came off.
They showed a hunger and vigor lacking from the starters, attacking the glass and going to the rim aggressively.
“The second unit played one of the most important stretches of the whole season,” Carlisle said. “They have really kept themselves focused.”
Jones had 17 points, Croshere added 10 points and five rebounds and Harrington had 12 points and 13 rebounds.
The Celtics again couldn’t match the intensity.
Indiana outscored Boston 50-30 in the paint and has a 98-58 advantage inside in the two games. O’Neal finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds, but it was the second unit that made the difference.
“I struggled in the third quarter,” O’Neal said. “If it weren’t for (the reserves) we lose the game.”
The Pacers outscored the Celtics 38-21 in the fourth quarter.
“In the fourth, our true colors came out as a young team,” Pierce said. “We lost our composure and never regained it.”
Chucky Atkins added 21 points and six assists for the Celtics, but coach John Carroll gave the impression he’s presiding over a sinking ship.
“It’s like being in a boat with 20 holes and 10 plugs,” Carroll said.“You hope it gets you there, but tonight it didn’t.”
^Notes: After going 1-for-6 from the field in the opening 24 minutes, a frustrated Reggie Miller got a technical foul at the end of the half for trying to trip Boston’s Jumaine Jones. … Hunter did not play in Game 2 after getting into the altercation with O’Neal in Game 1. The Pacers felt Hunter’s move was intentional. “I’m not even that type of player,” Hunter said. “I was just in there to be aggressive and try to get a rebound.” … O’Neal received a technical foul at 3:48 of the fourth quarter for arguing a foul call.