Pacers even East finals at 2 with 83-68 win

Artest scores 20

Croshere starts, scores 14 on Pistons

May 29, 2004|By K.C. Johnson | K.C. Johnson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - For the past two days, the Indiana Pacers answered questions about their offensive ineptitude with incredulous tones and confidence that bordered on cockiness.

Ron Artest, who entered last night's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals shooting 26.3 percent, even disputed somebody's assertion that he had struggled this series.

This is the mind-set that the Pacers used to rack up the league's best regular-season record. This is the mind-set they took into Game 4 as Indiana wrested home-court advantage back from the Detroit Pistons with an 83-68 victory, tying the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

The series resumes tomorrow night in Indianapolis, with Game 6 back in Auburn Hills on Tuesday night.

Artest led four Pacers in double figures with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Jermaine O'Neal had 12 points and 13 rebounds.

"We knew we were better than we were playing," said Reggie Miller, who had 15 points.

Coach Rick Carlisle made a lineup tweak, starting a more offensive-minded Austin Croshere (14 points) for the first time this season in place of Jeff Foster. This forced Detroit's big men to abandon their preferred roles of helping defensively in the lane and respect Croshere's ability from the perimeter.

That ability came on display when Croshere drained two three-pointers in an 8-2 run to open the second half, stretching a 49-39 halftime lead to 16.

"It was a gamble worth taking," Carlisle said. "Austin stretches the floor."

"To get the opportunity to step up in a game like this, it's great," said Croshere, whose six points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter of Game 3 prompted Carlisle to make the change.

Indiana, which led by as many as 23, shot 45.7 percent after connecting at a dreadful 31.9 percent clip in the first three games.

"I'd love to be scoring more points," Carlisle said. "But these are just tough teams defensively, persistent. The competitiveness of the series has to be compelling, even though the scores aren't high. A lot of what playoff basketball is about is that high level of competing."

Detroit, led by Richard Hamilton's 22 points, showed its competitiveness with a fourth-quarter charge that trimmed its deficit to 72-61. But Artest scored six straight Pacers points, and Miller followed with a three-pointer that pushed the lead back to 81-65 with 2:02 left.

Indiana won despite a hobbled Jamaal Tinsley playing only 20 minutes with a sore leg. They endured another scare too.

Late in the first quarter, O'Neal landed awkwardly while battling for an offensive rebound and crumpled to the court. He remained in the game for 59 more seconds - even blocking a shot - but then headed to the locker room at the 1:34 mark.

He returned at the 10:31 mark of the second quarter with what the Pacers' staff called a mild left knee sprain.

"To go down in the first quarter was hard for me," said O'Neal, who will undergo an MRI after practice today. "But I went back to the locker room and they said it was OK to play."

The Pacers feel better.

"What our guys have to remember is the pressure's not on them, the pressure's on Detroit," Carlisle said. "Their whole season is made or broken on whether they go to the Finals."

Said Detroit coach Larry Brown: "We weren't ready to play. And that's on me."

Jalen Rose, who said he attended only his second playoff game as a spectator, grew up in Detroit. But he played nearly six seasons with the Pacers, for both Brown and Larry Bird, the latter currently Indiana's president of basketball operations.

"I came to see my man `L.B.'," Rose said.

He meant Bird, not Brown.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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