Monday , Mar , 08 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

On pace for the playoffs: Indy tops Denver

Denver, CO (Sports Network) – Jermaine O’Neal collected 31 points and hauled
down 10 rebounds, as the Indiana Pacers became the first team in the NBA to
clinch a playoff berth with a 103-94 triumph over the Denver Nuggets at the
Pepsi Center.

Anthony Johnson started at the point for Indiana because of Jamaal Tinsley’s
sprained toe, and scored 21 points to go along with seven assists. Jeff Foster
chipped in with 11 points and 10 boards for Indiana, which won its fifth
straight and for the eighth time in nine games.

“It was good to step in and help keep this train rolling along,” Johnson said.

Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points and hauled down eight rebounds, and Voshon
Lenard and Andre Miller each posted 12 points, as Denver lost for the eighth
time in nine games.

“There’s a reason Indiana is 47-16. They’re a very good team,” Denver head
coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “I’m very proud of our team. We battled hard.”

With the Pacers up 88-86 in the fourth quarter, Johnson put a runner hard off
the glass and in to push Indiana’s lead to four points, but Anthony responded
with a driving layup to make it 90-88.

O’Neal then converted a three-point play after being fouled on a jumper in
the lane, and Earl Boykins missed at the other end, leaving Indiana ahead
93-88 with just over a minute to go.

Johnson connected on a free throw to make it a six-point game, and with 35
seconds to go, Boykins hit a layup to close the gap to 94-90. Johnson then hit
two free throws and Lenard did the same for the Nuggets, making it 96-92.

“Anthony Johnson played well as a starter,” Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle
said. “We have a lot of guys playing well right now, so there’s competition
for playing time.”

Reggie Miller then drained two foul shots before Anthony hit a jumper to keep
it a four-point game with 12 seconds left. But Anthony committed a technical
foul against Fred Jones on the ensuing inbound pass, and Jones hit the free
throw to put Indiana up five and end the drama.

This was the second and final meeting of the season between the two clubs. On
November 4, Indiana beat the Nuggets, 71-60, at Conseco Fieldhouse. Indiana
has won three straight and five of the last six meetings with the Nuggets.

The Pacers jumped out to a 14-6 lead on a Johnson three-pointer midway through
the first quarter. Denver climbed back into it, though, getting to within two
points at 18-16 on a Lenard jumper with 2:45 remaining in the stanza.

But when Al Harrington dunked with 12 seconds to go in the first, it staked
the Pacers to a 29-22 advantage after 12 minutes.

After falling behind by as many as 11 points in the early stages of the second
quarter, the Nuggets used a 9-0 run to get back within two at 33-31 when
Anthony made a layup midway through the frame.

But Indiana doubled up the Nuggets over the rest of the half, closing out the
second quarter by outscoring Denver 20-10 and leading 53-41 heading into the
locker room.

Johnson and Anthony each had 11 points at the break to pace all scorers.

Indiana threatened to run away with the game over the first three minutes of
the third quarter, using a 12-2 burst to go ahead 65-43 on a Johnson three-
pointer 2:30 in.

The Nuggets kept battling, though, and got the lead back into single digits at
77-68 on a Boykins free throw with 42 seconds to go. A pair of foul shots from
Ron Artest put the Pacers up 79-68 after three quarters.

Indiana kept Denver at a distance over the first four minutes of the fourth,
but the Nuggets then used an 11-3 run, capped by an Andre Miller layup with
three minutes left, to pull back within two at 88-86.

Indiana has won nine of its last 12 road games, and is an impressive 23-10 as
the visitor this season.