WALTHAM, Mass. (AP)—At least Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle doesn’t have to worry about his team giving up.
“With everything we’ve been through this year,” Carlisle said Sunday, “a tough loss in one playoff game isn’t going to be something that’s going to derail us. I just don’t see that.”
The Pacers are far from finished and they’re far from defeated despite a 102-82 loss in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against Boston. Carlisle knows they can bounce back because they have already recovered from a kind of adversity no other NBA team has had to endure.
Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season for fighting with fans during the Nov. 19 game at Detroit, sparking a melee in the stands. Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal also drew long suspensions for their part in the brawl.
The Pacers, who reached the conference finals last year after posting the NBA’s best record, were below .500 at the All-Star break. But they finished strong, winning 11 of their last 16 games to finish 44-38 and earning a sixth seed with a victory in the regular-season finale.
But the playoff opener was a flop.
Boston missed 12 of its first 13 shots but its bench turned a two-point deficit after one quarter into a 15-point lead six minutes later. The Celtics outscored the Pacers 39-11 in the second quarter and led 76-49 midway through the third.
“We have been through a lot this year, and to come out and play the way we played last night, it’s kind of disrespecting what we’ve done this year,” Jermaine O’Neal said after practice in Boston. “Last night and this morning was a long time for us as far as thinking about it and looking at tape. … Hopefully things are much, much different tomorrow.”
Boston will host Game 2 on Monday night in the best-of-seven series. It’s the third consecutive year the teams have met in the first round; Boston won in 2003 and last year Indiana swept the series, then lost to Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We have to be ready for them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re going to be better, and we have to be better.”
But Pierce helped out with nine rebounds, five assists and five steals.
“Paul played great without scoring,” Rivers said. “When you see him making a contribution and he’s 0-for-6, that’s big for our team.”
O’Neal was 3-for-12 for seven points and Reggie Miller was 1-for-7 for seven points as he winds down his Hall of Fame career. Stephen Jackson had 25 points and reserve Austin Croshere (10 points) was the only other Pacer in double digits.
“Jermaine didn’t play well. Reggie didn’t play well. You can’t expect them not to play well all series,” Pierce said. “It was pretty lopsided, but the series is a long way from over.”
Pierce said he wasn’t worried about his inability to score on Saturday night. Getting a contribution from the second unit—including Marcus Banks (11 points), Ricky Davis (13) and Al Jefferson (eight points, seven rebounds)—is better for the team in the long run.
Raef LaFrentz scored 21 points to lead the Celtics, making all five 3-point attempts.
“When we need it, I’m there to give it to us,” Pierce said. “When we need a big night scoring, I’m able to step up and give it to us.”