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Pacers take 2-1 lead as O'Neal scores 37
By CLIFF BRUNT, Associated Press Writer
Apr 27, 2006 - 11:28:00 PM

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe Jermaine O'Neal's $15,000 fine was worth it.

The Pacer's Jermaine O'Neal, left, is hugged by teammate Stephen Jackson after both left the game late in the fourth quarter of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game in Indianapolis, Thursday, April 27, 2006. The Pacers won, 107-95. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

The NBA fined O'Neal on Thursday for publicly criticizing officials after Indiana's Game 2 loss at New Jersey. Unfazed, he tied a career playoff high with 37 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and the Pacers beat the Nets 107-95 to take a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

O'Neal has complained throughout the series that New Jersey players have been flopping and getting calls that limited his effectiveness and kept him on the bench. On Thursday, O'Neal's primary defenders were in foul trouble for much of the game. Nenad Krstic fouled out and Clifford Robinson and Jason Collins both finished with five fouls.

O'Neal wouldn't talk about the impact of his comments, but teammate Anthony Johnson said O'Neal played with a chip on his shoulder.

"He wanted to go out and show the NBA people and everybody they (the Nets) couldn't stop him without hanging all over him," he said. "Tonight, he was basically unstoppable."

O'Neal dominated with an array of dunks, mid-range jumpers and fadeaways, finally resembling the All-Star the Pacers have grown accustomed to seeing. He averaged 13.5 points and five rebounds in the first two games of the series, but shot 12-for-15 from the field and 13-for-14 from the line in Game 3.

Robinson said the game was officiated differently.

"That's not my style to blame the officiating, but the game was obviously called a different way than it was in New Jersey," he said. "Now it's up to us to make the adjustments."

Collins wondered if the Nets should turn to lobbying.

"He got fined $15,000? Maybe we should get fined, because there were a couple of calls that didn't go our way," Collins said. "But this is the NBA. Referees are going to make calls as a player, you have to play through them."

Johnson scored 13 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter for the Pacers, who will host Game 4 on Saturday. When the Nets adjusted to O'Neal, Johnson took advantage.

"J.O. had a great game going, They decided to double him, that allowed me to go free," Johnson said.

Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter each scored 25 points for the Nets, but Carter was held without a field goal in the second half. The Pacers held the Nets to 9-for-38 shooting (24 percent) in the second half.

"Their defense fueled their offense," New Jersey coach Lawrence Frank said. "They kept making stops."

Indiana led 78-70 heading into the fourth quarter, but New Jersey cut the lead to 79-76 on two buckets by Jefferson. Indiana got a basket from O'Neal and a 3-pointer from Stephen Jackson to take an 84-76 lead with 8:23 left. Johnson followed by scoring 10 points in 2:21 to put the Pacers in control for good.

The Pacers held Krstic to nine points. He averaged 21 points and shot 57 percent through the first two games. He was called for a technical foul with 1:45 left in the third quarter for shoving Indiana's Scot Pollard and fouled out with 4:32 left in the game.

The Pacers took a 47-45 lead with 1:52 left in the first half, but Carter converted a three-point play, and made a 3-pointer and a dunk in the final two minutes of the second quarter to give the Nets a 55-51 halftime lead. Carter scored 21 points in the first half and O'Neal scored 19.

Indiana opened the second half on a 15-7 run to take a 66-62 lead. The Pacers held New Jersey to 3-for-18 shooting in the third quarter.

"We only had three field goals, but more importantly, we gave up 27 points," Frank said. "We just had some defensive breakdowns. Sometimes we played good defense and they made shots. That's why we're tipping our hats to them."

Carter, who missed all 10 of his shot attempts in the second half, noticed that the Pacers clamped down on defense in the third quarter.

"They hit their shots and we just plain missed ours," he said. "It obviously wasn't a good quarter for us. We just know we have to regroup and bounce back Saturday."

O'Neal expects Game 4 to be difficult.

"That is a very good team, a very talented team," he said. "They're going to try to come back in a major, major way. This is probably the most important game of the series for us."

Notes: Indiana point guard Jamaal Tinsley sat out with a sore right Achilles' after playing in Game 2. ... Jason Kidd was held to 11 points in the first two games combined but finished with 14 on Thursday. ... Jackson played after hyperextending a finger on his right (shooting) hand late in Game 2 and finished with 17 points.

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