MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—It sure looks as if it’s going to take more than a bunch of injuries and a suspended star to stop the Indiana Pacers.
Jermaine O’Neal had 22 points and eight rebounds to help the banged-up, unbeaten Pacers hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-101 on Tuesday night— with Ron Artest benched for an unspecified reason.
“This team is so far from being a one- or two-man show,” O’Neal said. “Pretty soon someone’s going to have to say something about us.”
Artest, an All-Star and the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, did something Monday that “compromised the integrity of the team.” That’s according to coach Rick Carlisle, who called it a “private team matter.” Artest won’t play Wednesday, either.
It’s not as if he wasn’t missed, especially down the stretch as Latrell Sprewell (21 points) and Wally Szczerbiak (20 points) led Minnesota’s comeback. But the Pacers (4-0), with several reserves seeing extensive playing time, also proved they’ve got plenty of capable bodies on the roster.
“We showed a lot of poise and a lot of team camaraderie,” said Stephen Jackson, who had 21 points.
The Timberwolves missed two late chances to win. Kevin Garnett’s turnaround jumper fell short with about five seconds left, and they retained possession after the ball went out of bounds.
“Pretty good look,” Garnett said. “I know I can hit that nine out of 10 times.”
Then Sprewell couldn’t convert his 23-footer from the wing as the buzzer sounded.
“This was what a team’s about,” Carlisle said. “It’s about having guys ready to step up and play.”
Indiana owned a 47-30 rebounding advantage and went 21-for-23 at the free-throw line. Minnesota, which got 22 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists from Garnett, made 20 of 28 foul shots. All the misses were by Garnett, who went 6-for-14.
O’Neal—making his first start of the season because of a sore left foot— played well against Garnett, last season’s league MVP. The game, however, was won by contributions from lesser-known players such as Fred Jones (14 points, seven rebounds), Jamaal Tinsley (18 points, six assists) and Eddie Gill (seven points). Scot Pollard, returning from a back injury, led the Pacers with 11 rebounds.
“We got better in the fourth quarter, but that’s a game we shouldn’t have lost,” Szczerbiak said.
Sprewell and Szczerbiak accounted for all the scoring in a 12-4 spurt during a span of just more than three minutes late in the fourth. Szczerbiak’s 3-pointer sliced the lead to 96-92 with 3:02 left.
Maneuvering around Garnett in the post, O’Neal then took a bounce pass from Tinsley and dunked—hanging hard on the rim and pumping his fist—to give Indiana a 102-97 lead. Garnett fouled him, but O’Neal missed the free throw and then fouled out on the other end.
Szczerbiak made a pair of free throws, Tinsley threw the ball away with Sprewell hounding Jackson, and Troy Hudson converted a reverse layup to cut it to 102-101 with 33.3 seconds to go.
Tinsley’s layup was short, and so was his tip attempt. Trenton Hassell grabbed the rebound with 10.5 seconds left, setting up the last possession.
Sprewell, whose complaints last week about his lack of a contract extension brought him heavy criticism, whirled around during a first-quarter timeout when a fan behind the bench taunted him. Sprewell yelled some obscenities before returning to the court. Security gave the man a brief lecture on etiquette. “When you pay you have a right to do things,” coach Flip Saunders said, “but that doesn’t mean it’s right.” … Eddie Griffin, who served a three-game suspension for pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault for a fight last year in Texas, made his first regular-season NBA appearance since April 16, 2003. Griffin, who didn’t play last season because of suspensions, legal troubles and time spent getting treatment for alcohol abuse, had two points and one rebound in 12 minutes for Minnesota. … Pacers forward Jonathan Bender, who played in the opener but has been nursing a sore right knee since training camp, could return Wednesday against the Clippers. … Timberwolves guard Fred Hoiberg sat out with back spasms.