Saturday , Dec , 25 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

O’Neal returns, but Pacers’ Christmas spoiled by NBA champs

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Richard Hamilton poured in a game-high 25
points to lead Detroit to a 98-93 win over Indiana on Christmas Day at Conseco
Fieldhouse.

This marked the first meeting between the teams since the disgraceful brawl
that took place at The Palace on November 19. Indiana won that fight-marred
affair, 97-82. The game had to be stopped because of the fracas and NBA
commissioner David Stern showed no mercy as he suspended Indiana’s Ron Artest
for the remainder of the season for his part in the incident. Stern also
suspended eight other players for their parts in the melee that started on the
court and eventually found its way into the seats and included the fans.

Artest’s teammate, Stephen Jackson, received a 30-game suspension, while
Indiana All-Star Jermaine O’Neal was originally scheduled to miss 25 contests.
However, O’Neal was available for this game after a federal judge upheld an
arbitrator’s ruling that reduced the suspension to only 15 games.

“I didn’t start to feel comfortable until the second half,” said O’Neal. “Any
time you miss 15 games, it’s tough on you. I feel bad for my teammates because
they were trying to make sure I was in a comfort zone.”

Detroit suffered it biggest loss with a six-game suspension to Ben Wallace,
whose two-handed shove to Artest’s face instigated the fracas.

Chauncey Billups added 20 points and Tayshaun Prince contributed 18 and eight
rebounds for the Pistons, who snapped their two-game losing streak. Rasheed
Wallace added 16 points and Antonio McDyess finished with 13 points and eight
boards in the win.

“We had a lot of guys play well,” said Detroit head coach Larry Brown. “Our
bench was really solid, though we didn’t shoot really well. We didn’t force up
a bunch of shots. I’m just glad we won. I’m glad it’s over. Now we can all go
enjoy our Christmas and be with our families.”

Reggie Miller scored 24 points and O’Neal added 21 for the Pacers, who have
dropped three straight and 10 of their last 12 contests. Fred Jones netted 15
points and Jeff Foster chipped in 10 points and 16 rebounds in the setback.

Indiana trailed by eight after three quarters, but opened the fourth with a
6-0 surge to pull within two points with 10:26 remaining. However, Detroit
steadied itself and used a 9-2 run midway through the period to build its lead
to 78-69.

Jamaal Tinsley’s driving layup with 3 1/2 minutes remaining brought Indiana
within 84-78, but Rasheed Wallace’s three-pointer with 1:29 left in the game
gave the Pistons a seemingly comfortable nine-point lead.

The margin grew to 10 points at 92-82 moments later, but the Pacers did not go
away quietly. Three-pointers by Jones and Miller pulled Indiana within 92-88
with 39.5 seconds left.

Detroit, though, sealed the win by knocking down six free throws in the waning
seconds. The Pacers did get within four in the final 12 seconds, but it was
not enough as Billups accounted for the final margin with a free throw.

“We knew this game would be tough, and we knew it would be rowdy…We wanted
to come in here and get some revenge,” said Billups.

The Pistons were 10-of-13 from the foul line in the final quarter.

Indiana jumped out to a 12-5 lead, courtesy of six points from Foster and four
from Miller, but the Pistons quickly tied the game. Detroit used a quick 7-0
burst, capped by Billups’ three-pointer, to even the game with just under six
minutes left in the first quarter.

The Pacers eventually led 21-18 after one period.

Indiana led 36-34 midway through the second quarter, but the Pistons reeled
off eight consecutive points to grab a 42-36 lead with just under three
minutes remaining in the period. Billups netted four points during the run.
The Pistons held a 46-45 advantage at the intermission.

Billups scored 12 points, while Miller led Indiana with 14 in the opening 24
minutes.

Detroit led 60-59 late in the third quarter, but ended the period with a 9-2
surge, keyed by four from McDyess, to take a 69-61 advantage after three
quarters.

DET IND