Thursday , Apr , 01 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Pacers clinch Central Division; earn top seed in East

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Ron Artest poured in a game-high 21 points
and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 111-78 win over
Milwaukee at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Al Harrington came off the bench to post a double-double with 14 points and 10
rebounds, as the Pacers clinched the Central Division title and earned home-
court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. It marked the
fourth division title in the club’s history. Jermaine O’Neal chipped in 16
points and a career-high seven assists for Indiana, which won at home for
the ninth time in its last 10 games as the host.

“This team has done something to this point that a lot of people didn’t think
would happen,” Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle said of the team’s division
title. “The important thing with seven games to go is to maintain an edge.”

Toni Kukoc paced the Bucks with 15 points, who lost for the eighth time in
their last 11 overall. Milwaukee remained in a tie for fourth place in
the East with New Orleans and Miami. The Hornets lost at Utah, while the
Heat defeated Atlanta on the night. Desmond Mason and Erick Strickland
each scored 10 points in the losing effort.

“Well, we knew they would come at us,” Milwaukee coach Terry Porter said.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t come out with effort.”

The Pacers, who led by double-digits since the 7:41 mark of the first quarter,
snapped a four-game losing streak to Milwaukee and beat every team in the
Eastern Conference at least once this season. The Bucks defeated Indiana in
Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

“They’ve been on the back of our mind all year,” Indiana guard Fred Jones
said. “We came into tonight with a mind frame that we needed to beat them.”

The Pacers raced out to a 12-2 lead 3 1/2 minutes into the contest, and
Artest’s baseline jumper several minutes later pushed Indiana’s advantage to
19 at 28-9. Artest had 11 points in the frame, including the final seven, as
the Pacers held a 30-13 edge after one.

“It was a game that we needed to get,” Artest said. “I think everybody worked
hard and played well together tonight.”

Jeff Foster’s layup with 2:50 remaining until halftime staked Indiana to a
50-32 advantage. Milwaukee tried to make a late run as Kukoc scored the final
five points of the half to pull the Bucks within 50-37 at the break.

Artest and Kukoc paced all scorers with 15 points apiece in the first 24

The Bucks never got closer than 13 during the third quarter, while Reggie
Miller’s three from the top of the key with 5:36 to go extended Indiana’s
lead to 67-47. The Pacers led by 26 on several occasions late in the period
and held an 81-55 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

The Pacers led by as many as 35 in the final period, as Milwaukee never got
closer than 29.