Pistons pass clunky Pacers

Detroit follows Hamilton, who nets 33, to 83-65 win, 3-2 lead in Eastern finals

Pro Basketball

May 31, 2004|By K.C. Johnson | K.C. Johnson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana Pacers' day began with a bone bruise and ended in a world of hurt, their playoff plans ripped up by a man nicknamed "Rip."

Jermaine O'Neal reported to yesterday's morning shoot-around complaining of increased swelling in his left knee.

Considering him more gimpy than go-to, Indiana rarely worked the ball inside and O'Neal finished with 11 points on 10 shots while battling pain, foul trouble and a bulky knee brace.

Meanwhile, Detroit and Richard "Rip" Hamilton seized control of the Eastern Conference finals with an 83-65 victory in Game 5 at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Hamilton, a tireless runner who shreds his defenders off screen after screen, shot his way to a career-playoff-high 33 points, carrying the Pistons, who prevailed for the second time of this best-of-seven series in Indianapolis, to within one victory of their first NBA Finals appearance since 1990.

Game 6 is tomorrow in Auburn Hills, Mich.

"I just tried to be aggressive and move without the ball a lot," Hamilton said. "I knew if I just kept moving, they would get tired of me."

Hamilton scored Detroit's final eight points of the half as the Pistons led 41-36, then opened the third quarter with Detroit's first two buckets.

His three-point play with 6:27 remaining in the third quarter pushed Detroit's lead to 11, sent proud veteran Reggie Miller to the bench and finally prompted Pacers coach Rick Carlisle to have Ron Artest, the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year, shadow Hamilton (12-for-22 from the field, 8-for-8 at the foul line).

Hamilton didn't score another field goal for 16:42. But the damage had been done, and Rasheed Wallace heated up in the fourth quarter.

Wallace scored eight of his 22 points, including four in an 8-0 run that silenced the crowd after Indiana had pulled to within 64-59.

Ben Wallace added 12 rebounds and five blocks as Indiana shot 33.3 percent and established a franchise playoff record for fewest points for the second time this series.

"If we come out and play Piston basketball, we can close this out," Rasheed Wallace said.

Indiana played at far less than full strength, with Jamaal Tinsley still battling several injuries in his left leg and taking multiple trips to the locker room. Backup point guard Anthony Johnson played with the stomach flu.

But O'Neal, an All-NBA second-team selection who finished third in balloting for Most Valuable Player this season, is the fuel for the Pacers' racecar.

He originally sprained his left knee in the first quarter of Indiana's Game 4 victory on Friday. But he returned to contribute 12 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes and felt so confident about his injury on Saturday that he declared it a "non-issue."

Then came yesterday.

"It's an injury," O'Neal said. "It takes away some of your mobility. It won't get better overnight, so I'll have to find a way to deal with it. This series isn't over."

Adding to the intrigue were conflicting stories by Carlisle and O'Neal, the former saying the swelling required the draining of fluids and the latter denying that.

This much is clear: O'Neal didn't get enough touches for 38 minutes of action.

Indiana's Fred Jones provided a lift off the bench with three three-pointers and 13 points, tying Artest for team-high honors. But it wasn't enough.

A jumper by Jones with 8:09 left capped a 12-4 run and pulled the Pacers to 64-59, but Rasheed Wallace made two free throws and Chauncey Billups hit a 22-footer to quiet the crowd and put the Pistons back in command.

"We know the situation we're in," Carlisle said. "We have a choice. We can figure out the things that got us two wins in this series. Or we'll go home. It's as simple as that."

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

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