INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—After being run out of the building in a 35-point loss at Phoenix less than a week earlier, the Indiana Pacers set the tempo Friday night. It made all the difference.
Jermaine O’Neal had 29 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks in the Pacers’ 101-83 victory over the Suns, who have lost two in a row for just the second time this season.
When Steve Nash went down with an injury in the second quarter, Phoenix came unglued.
“Some people said we needed some adversity to become a good team,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Well there’s some adversity for you.”
Nash, who leads the NBA in assists with 11.1 per game and sets the frenetic tempo for the Suns, left early in the second quarter with a bruised left thigh and did not return.
Nash also had his nose bloodied in the first quarter and finished with 11 points in 11 minutes.
“Steve Nash is the motor that makes the car run,” O’Neal said. “They have a lot of great athletes and a lot of guys who can score and do special things, but without Steve Nash doing the things he does, it makes it tough for them to score.”
Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 26 points and 11 rebounds. But two nights after running out of energy in a loss at Utah, Phoenix had trouble even getting started against the defensive-minded Pacers.
“We jumped out on them early instead of them jumping out on us,” said Jamaal Tinsley, who had 18 points and three steals. “And we made shots so they couldn’t run.”
The Suns’ 83 points was 10 less than their previous season-low of 93 against Minnesota. The Suns shot just 39 percent from the field, and Quentin Richardson was 0-for-11.
After getting drilled by the Suns, 124-89, at Phoenix on Sunday, the Pacers got off to a much better start at home and dominated the boards to win.
“With those guys, if you run up and down with them, there is no way in the world you can beat them,” O’Neal said.
But on Friday, the Pacers only ran when they wanted to. O’Neal scored 12 points in the first quarter and the Pacers shot 65 percent to take a 32-23 lead.
It was a welcome sight for Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who watched his team get off to poor starts in the last three games of their four-game road trip. The Pacers gave up 77 points in the first half of a loss to Dallas on Saturday, 65 to Phoenix on Sunday and then 57 in their win at Memphis on Wednesday.
“It was more than just playing good ‘D,”’ Carlisle said. “Our offense was better, more successful than it had been in some of those blowout games. When you play well at one end, it helps the other end.”
But with Nash in the locker room, the Suns came out flat in the third. They scored just 15 points on 33 percent shooting could not get out in transition against the grind-it-out Pacers.
This time it was Tinsley who dictated the tempo throughout the game, slowing it up often and running when the opportunity presented itself.
Frustrated and handcuffed, the Suns wilted down the stretch to lose back to back games for the first time since falling to Cleveland and Sacramento in November.
They still own the league’s best record (31-6), but D’Antoni said early comparisons to Michael Jordan’s Bulls were unrealistic.
“When everybody jumps the gun on the youngest team in the league thinking we’re going to win 73 games and be the Chicago Bulls, come on, we weren’t going to do that,” D’Antoni said.
O’Neal hit consecutive jump hooks for a 14-point lead late in the third quarter, and Fred Jones essentially finished off the game with a 3-pointer for a 20-point lead with under three minutes to play.
Jones had 14 points and six rebounds and Jeff Foster added 11 points and 12 boards for the Pacers, who outrebounded Phoenix 52-36.
“We needed this,” Stoudemire said. “We need this to gather ourselves and really focus on defense.”
Nash was listed as questionable for Saturday’s game at Washington. … The Pacers activated C Scot Pollard and placed rookie C David Harrison on the injured list with a concussion. Pollard missed the previous 20 games with a sore lower back. He had six points and seven rebounds. … Richardson’s fiancee, R&B singer Brandy, and musician Bruce Hornsby were in attendance. … Colts coach Tony Dungy received a standing ovation when he was shown on the scoreboard. Several Colts were in the crowd, including receiver Reggie Wayne, end Dwight Freeney and safety Mike Doss.