INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Hammered over the last four days for their involvement in an ugly brawl with Detroit fans, the Indiana Pacers and their fans finally have something to feel good about.
Artest was banned for the season, Jackson for 30 games and O’Neal for 25 for fighting with fans in Friday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons.
Against the Celtics, a ragtag group of role players and journeymen fed off a raucous home crowd to pull out an improbable victory.
“Our heart is a little sore with our three best players not with us,” said Fred Jones, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds. “I think the fans filled that void.”
The Pacers did all the little things to win, and the hometown fans loved every minute of it.
The Pacers outrebounded Boston 45-33 and made 31 of 33 free throws.
“In a lot of cities, people just come to see stars,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “But in this city, people come to watch the game of basketball, and they love it. It just means so much to us as a franchise to get this kind of support in the situation we’re in.”
Paul Pierce led the Celtics with 20 points, but shot just 6-of-14 from the field.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he put a checklist on the board before the game.
“In talent, we win that battle. In skill, we win that battle. In continuity, because we’ve been together longer, we win that battle,” Rivers said. “I’ll take the blame. When your talent is better, you should never lose a game. They out-scrapped us.”
With several Pacers’ wearing Jackson’s and O’Neal’s arm bands, they delivered a total team performance.
The determined bunch dove for loose balls, made the extra pass and knocked down free throws, giving their beleaguered fans something to cheer after being bombarded by replays of their team’s involvement in one of the ugliest instances of player-fan violence in U.S. sports history.
When Fred Jones poked a pass away and fed Tinsley for a layup and a 12-point lead in the third quarter, the crowd roared its approval, giving a standing ovation to their undermanned charges.
Tinsley was brilliant in his return after missing Saturday’s game with a wrist injury sustained in the brawl at Detroit.
He attacked the basket relentlessly, scoring seven straight points for the Pacers late in the second quarter to help them to a 50-47 halftime lead.
When Tinsley wasn’t scoring, he slipped several nice passes into the paint to set up layups or dunks.
“I really didn’t know if I was going to play or not,” Tinsley said. “But then I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something to help my teammates win some ball games.”
Pierce finally got going for Boston in the third quarter, hitting a 3-pointer, a jumper and two free throws to key an 18-5 Celtics run, and the teams started the fourth tied at 72.
But Tinsley refused to let Indiana waste another spirited effort after six healthy and eligible Pacers lost by just three points to Orlando on Saturday.
He had a dazzling spin move on a driving layup, then set up two more layups by Scot Pollard and James Jones for an 89-80 lead.
James Jones then sealed the win with a 3-pointer that gave the Pacers a 98-86 lead and their fans a much-needed reason to cheer.
Gary Payton had 14 points and eight assists for Boston.
“To me, this is one of the toughest losses I’ve ever been associated with,” Pierce said. “Hopefully we can take it out on Philadelphia (Wednesday) night.”
Tinsley was involved in two tension-filled moments in the fourth.
He got tangled up with Pierce and the two jawed and exchanged love taps. Then Tinsley was fouled hard by Ricky Davis on a breakaway. Each time, the Pacers calmed each other down, refusing to have a repeat of the events that triggered Friday’s brawl.
“I can just picture Ronnie, Jermaine and Jack watching the game and jumping for joy,” James Jones said, “Just like we were on the court and just like the fans were tonight.”
In a show of support, Indianapolis Colts players Mike Doss and Marcus Pollard brought a box of Artest jerseys to practice Tuesday and handed them out to teammates. “I don’t agree with what Ron Artest did, but for the guy to miss a whole year and not get paid, I don’t like it,” Pollard said. … Tinsley got a technical foul at 3:11 of the second when he winged the ball in referee Scott Wall’s direction. … The Celtics are 3-14 in their last 16 trips to Indiana. … Pierce got a technical for arguing at 8:54 of the third.