Wednesday , May , 18 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Notebook: Pacers on brink of elimination

(Sports Network) – Indiana is one loss away from having its 2004-05 season
come to an end. The Pacers trail the defending world champion Detroit Pistons
3-2 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series.

In Game 5, All-Star Ben Wallace scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to
lead the Pistons to a convincing 86-67 victory over the Pacers at The Palace
of Auburn Hills. Tayshaun Prince finished with 16 points and a game-high 12
boards for Detroit, while Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton each netted 13
in the win.

Detroit, which won Game 1 at The Palace and fell in the next two contests of
the set, has won two straight in the series and will attempt to eliminate the
Pacers in Game 6 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Pistons have won eight straight
games when they have the chance to eliminate their opponent from the
postseason, while the Pacers have dropped three of their last five contests
when facing elimination.

After losing Game 2 at The Palace and Game 3 at Conseco Fieldhouse, the
Pistons seem to be back to playing their brand of hard-nosed basketball.

“It’s close,” said Wallace after Game 5s’ victory. ” We’re making strides to
getting back where we [were] and right now, I think we’re coming out with a
lot energy from the start, getting stops from the start, and not waiting until
we find ourselves in a hole when we need to get stops. We’re getting stops
early in the game; forcing teams to go against our set defense. Anytime we can
force teams to play against our set defense, I like our chances.”

Indiana had trouble finding a rhythm offensively in Game 5. Jermaine O’Neal
scored a team-high 14 points on 6-of-14 from the floor, while Stephen Jackson
netted 12. The Pacers were outrebounded, 52-34, and shot just 36.9 percent
(24-of-65) from the field.

“Partly, they’re (Pistons) playing pretty good defense but we’re just not
making shots right now,” said O’Neal after Game 5s’ loss. “We’re getting a lot
of good looks and I think the biggest problem for us is second chance
opportunities. Those guys are really pounding us on the boards from every
position. In order for us to have a chance in this series we have to cut down
on their second-chance-opportunities just so we can have a competitive game.”

The Pacers had the lead in this series after three contests, and had a chance
to take a 3-1 lead at Conseco Fieldhouse. However, it didn’t happen and
instead Indiana has managed to score an average of just 71.5 points in the
last two games and is in serious danger of going on vacation until the 2005-06
campaign.

Can Indiana win the next contest in front of its home crowd and force a Game
7?

“It better not be hard at all,” said O’Neal. “Right now our backs are against
the wall and it’s a test of our will. If we don’t have enough will to come out
and win a game on our home court, then we have to start playing for next
season.”

O’Neal, who has averaged 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds in the first five games
against Detroit, does not appear to be 100 percent healthy. He still seems to
be bothered by a right shoulder injury, which he suffered in early March.
However, the four-time All-Star, who is shooting just 34.5 percent from the
floor versus the Pistons, is showing a lot of heart by playing through the
pain and his effort has helped motivate the rest of his teammates to play ever
game like its their last.

Indiana may have spent its energy on winning Games 2 and 3. The Pacers are
going to need big performances from 39-year-old shooting guard Reggie Miller,
who has said he will retire when the Pacers’ season comes to an end, Jackson,
O’Neal and Jamaal Tinsley if they hope to survive.

Detroit has the Pacers right where it wants them. The Pistons would like
nothing better than to eliminate Indiana on its homecourt.

“I think we still have it in us,” said O’Neal. “We just have to make some
changes defensively collectively as a team and rebound the basketball. I think
that’s where the difference is; giving those guys two or three opportunities
at shots.

“You can’t give any pro that many opportunities at this level to score the
basketball. They have pretty good offensive players so we have to all stand as
a group and give ourselves opportunities because our defense does that for our
offense.”

DET IND