The Pacers nearly blew a 15-point advantage before beating the Celtics 117-112 on Wednesday night. Indiana remained tied for the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race and eliminated the Celtics.
“It got hairy at the end, but it’s going to be hairy at times,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “You’ve just got to be able to find a way to win. The importance of it is being able to stop the run.”
Peja Stojakovic scored 25 points, O’Neal had 21 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, and Austin Croshere added a season-high 20 points as the Pacers set a season high for points. Indiana tied a season high with 13 3-pointers and beat the Celtics for the first time in four tries.
Indiana led by double digits through most of the fourth quarter, but the Celtics went on a late run to come back. Tony Allen’s layup with 1:14 left cut Indiana’s lead to 115-112, but Anthony Johnson made a layup with 19 seconds remaining to preserve the win.
“It was a broken play,” Johnson said. “When it’s a broken play, you’ve just got to do your 1-on-1 thing.”
O’Neal knew he was close to the triple-double. He jokingly blamed rookie Danny Granger for not helping him get it.
“I thought about it,” he said. “I looked up, I had seven assists with five minutes to go. Danny Granger passed up, like, three open jump shots.”
Granger made his mark in other ways. He hit a 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give the Pacers a 64-61 lead, then scored on a lob as time expired in the third quarter to give Indiana a 96-86 lead.
O’Neal still tied a career high for assists.
“I think its really a telling tale of the new offense and the equal opportunity,” he said. “Everybody gets the basketball. We keep it moving.”
Boston shot 59 percent from the field, but the Pacers outrebounded the Celtics 42-25.
Paul Pierce scored 30 points and rookie Gerald Green added a career-high 22 points for Boston. Green had two big dunks in the first half, then drained a 50-footer with the shot clock winding down early in the fourth quarter.
“He’s been fantastic,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “Early in the year, there’s no way we put him on the floor. Offensively he’s been pretty good all year. But now, he understands how to get his shot.”
Pierce said the strong finish gives him hope that the future could be good in Boston.
“I can see from games like this that we’re prepared for the future,” he said. “We’ve given the young guys a chance to step up in the last few games. A lot of these guys would still be sitting if we weren’t thinking about the future.”
Indiana still needs a strong finish to make the playoffs. The Pacers weren’t happy with the fact that they nearly blew a game they couldn’t afford to lose.
“We didn’t play great defense, but we shared the ball a lot,” Croshere said. “Right now, it’s fun to play basketball. It’s fun to be out there. It was disappointing to lose the big lead, but it’s a win, and that’s good enough right now.”
Indiana guard Fred Jones sat out with a torn ligament in his left thumb. He had played the last three games after missing the previous two. Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said Jones’ injury is more serious than originally thought, and he doesn’t know when, or if, he’ll return this season.