Limited to just six players because of suspensions and injuries, the Pacers stayed close before dropping an 86-83 decision to Orlando on Saturday night.
“We had guys who had never played as a unit in an NBA game,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’m disappointed. We went out there to win the game, even given these unusual circumstances.”
With leading scorers Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson suspended indefinitely by the NBA earlier in the day following the fight in Detroit, the short-handed Pacers started a lineup of reserves and managed to stay with the Magic.
Grant Hill hit four free throws in the final 12 seconds and finished with 28 points to lead Orlando.
“Coming off the events of (Friday) night right away instead of having a few days in between probably helped them,” Hill said. “I didn’t think it would be that close.
“We talked the possibility of a letdown, but these guys are pros. Still, there’s a tendency to say these guys aren’t the star players, but we knew they would come out and play well.”
“We played a very inspired Indiana team,” Magic coach Johnny Davis said. “They gave us all we could handle.
“We were preparing for the other group, so we had to make adjustments on the fly. The Indiana Pacers laid their hearts out there tonight. We were lucky to get out of here with a win.”
O’Neal called Carlisle at halftime with some advice for Harrison: munch on a power bar, drink some water, and play with energy.
Jones was proud of the Pacers’ effort.
“I knew what I was getting into when the night started. There’s no back-down in this locker room,” he said.
Artest, O’Neal, Jackson and Detroit’s Ben Wallace took part in one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history Friday night.
The league and police were investigating the melee. Artest, O’Neal and Jackson, who threw punches at spectators in the stands or on the court at the end of the Pacers-Pistons game, began serving their suspensions.
Wallace’s suspension will start at home Sunday night against Charlotte.
The exact length of the four players’ bans could be announced as early as Sunday.
Before Saturday’s game, the PA announcer reminded fans that anyone throwing objects or going onto the floor would be arrested. Fans responded to the announcement with applause and cheers. As added security, the folding chairs on the players’ benches and in the first row surrounding the court were anchored with wire cables.
Indiana stayed close throughout. The Pacers held a four-point lead in the first period and had a 69-67 advantage after two free throws by Austin Croshere four minutes into the fourth quarter.
Hill tied the game and put Orlando in front again after a turnover by Croshere. Harrison tied the game at 71, but Steve Francis and Hill made consecutive baskets and the Magic never surrendered the lead.
“On paper, this team should have won by a lot,” Francis said. “But I don’t care what any player or fan says, the main thing is that Orlando won. In the NBA, winning is the most important thing.”
Jones, whose previous high was 18 points, pulled the Pacers within 78-75. After a basket by Hill, Indiana’s James Jones was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws, cutting the deficit to 80-78 with 38 seconds left.
Kelvin Cato gave Orlando a four-point lead before Harrison’s rebound basket pulled the Pacers within two.
Hill hit two free throws, and after a 3-pointer by Fred Jones, Hill made two more free throws to complete the scoring.
“You can’t underestimate them,” Cato said. “You can’t underestimate anyone in this league. They can play. That’s why they’re in the NBA.”
Hedo Turkoglu scored 16 points, and Francis added 13 for the Magic.
James Jones had career highs with 12 points and 12 rebounds for the Pacers, while Croshere finished with 11 points. Indiana rookie John Edwards played 15 minutes in a reserve role and had two points.
James Jones, who played in only six games as a rookie last season, made his first career start for the Pacers. His 43 minutes were 17 minutes more than he had in the six games as a rookie last year. … The Magic put Stacey Augmon on the injured list with tendinitis in his left knee and activated Brandon Hunter, who was acquired in a trade with Charlotte earlier this month.