Wednesday , Mar , 22 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Pacers overcome slow start, down Bulls in O’Neal’s return

Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) – Jermaine O’Neal scored 16 points in his
first game action since January 24, as the Indiana Pacers recovered from a
poor opening quarter to defeat the Chicago Bulls, 95-85, at Conseco
Fieldhouse.

Stephen Jackson led all scorers with 24 points, Anthony Johnson tallied 15
points and Danny Granger added 12 for Indiana, which snapped a two-game skid
with the victory. Peja Stojakovic donated 11 points and Jeff Foster grabbed 14
rebounds to go along with five points in the victory.

Having Jermaine back gave us a spiritual lift,” said Indiana head coach Rick
Carlisle. “And he played really well considering he’s been out two months. We
knew he was getting closer to playing. I felt what happened last night had an
effect on him. It’s essential we have time to get him re-integrated with the
team.”

The Bulls bench continued to carry them, as Andres Nocioni sprang for
17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, Mike Sweetney netted 12 points and
Chris Duhon added 11 in defeat. Chicago’s bench scored 48 of the team’s 85
points.

Kirk Hinrich donated 14 points for the Bulls, who dropped their fourth
consecutive game and fell for the 16th time in their last 18 trips to Conseco
Fieldhouse.

The beginning of the fourth quarter proved to be the difference, helping the
Pacers erase the memory of Tuesday’s 105-75 blowout loss to Memphis.

After Duhon converted a layup to start the stanza, Indiana reeled off 15 of
the next 17 points to take an 82-74 lead. Jackson scored the first five points
then Jamaal Tinsley converted an old-fashion three-point play. Jackson and
Stojakovic each scored from in close, and Granger’s three capped the stretch
with 6:37 left.

Chicago cut the deficit in half after Nocioni slid into the lane and made a
finger roll to make the score 84-80 with 3:16 to play.

The Pacers tallied the next nine points to put the game away. They did their
damage from the foul line, scoring the last five points from the stripe.
Jackson made three straight free throws to extend the edge to 93-80 with 45
ticks remaining.

Indiana easily held on for the victory from there.

“Offensively, I thought we got a little bit stagnant and they were able to
make plays when they had to,” said Hinrich. “We couldn’t stop them when it
counted.”

Chicago dominated the first quarter, using a tenacious defense to stifle
Indiana’s offensive attack. The Bulls scored nine straight points midway
through the period to take a 21-10 advantage. Sweetney tallied two layups, Ben
Gordon drained a trey and Nocioni’s jumper capped the run with 3:17 left.

Earlier in the period, O’Neal entered the game to a rousing ovation with 6:21
left. The forward wasted little time, scoring on a reverse layup with 5:59
left in the first stanza.

O’Neal also drained a pair of free throws to round out the first-quarter
scoring, as Chicago held a commanding 27-14 lead.

The Bulls lead was cut to 48-41 at the half, and Chicago only held a 70-67
advantage after three periods.

Game Notes

Indiana shot 42.7 percent from the floor…Both teams struggled from beyond
the arc, combining to make just 5-of-29 attempts…The Pacers made 28-of-39
from the charity stripe…The teams have now split the last six
meetings…Chicago fell to 14-21 on the road this season…Indiana improved to
21-12 at home.

CHI IND