Reserves might have to rescue Indiana

Updated: June 1, 2004, 4:49 PM ET
By Joe Lago | ESPN.com

AUBURN HILL, Mich. -- This much the Indiana Pacers know: They must find a way to beat the Detroit Pistons at The Palace tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals to keep their season alive.

Kenny Anderson
Getty ImagesKenny Anderson might finally leave the bench and play for a change.
As for who'll actually do the heavy lifting for the Pacers, it's anyone's guess.

Injuries to point guard Jamaal Tinsley and Jermaine O'Neal and a migraine that's still nagging Ron Artest figure to severely limit the contributions of all three starters. Their iffy situations could force coach Rick Carlisle to depend on his reserves more than usual in Indiana's biggest game of the season.

"We've got people who are ready to step up," Carlisle said. "Is it an ideal situation? No. But I've got a lot of confidence in our guys on the bench."

The Pacers have capable scorers in Al Harrington, Fred Jones, Anthony Johnson and Jonathan Bender. But they'll be counted on for defense as much as offense, especially with Richard Hamilton running amok and coming off a playoff career best of 33 points.

Indiana's reserves have outscored Detroit's bench in four of the series' five games, but the Pacers have only won twice in those instances. Indiana held a 26-11 advantage in Game 5 but still fell 83-65.

"We always have to step up. We take pride in always trying to do better than the other team's bench," Harrington said. "But tonight we have to pull our weight a little bit more and just really get it after it."

With Tinsley's left leg -- plagued by a bad hamstring, knee and ankle -- getting worse by the game, third-string point guard Kenny Anderson has been lobbying for playing time. He just might get his wish in Game 6.

"It's frustrating because I still can play. I'm still competitive," said Anderson, whose point-guard play helped Boston eliminate Detroit in the East semifinals two seasons ago. "If I was injured or I was 38, I'd sit down. But hey, I still love the game. I still can play."

"AJ (Anthony Johnson) has played so well in this series that Kenny hasn't been needed," Carlisle explained. "But Kenny is an experienced player. I won't hesitate to use him."

All of this uncertainty left a cloud of mystery hanging over the Pacers after their morning shootaround at The Palace. Not knowing who's going to play where, though, is nothing new for the Central Division champions.

"If you've followed us all year, there's kind of been that," Austin Croshere said. "Guys don't start, guys are injured and step up -- we kind of plug holes and are able to come away with wins. I think maybe it's a little bit of the unknown but I think we're used to those circumstances."

"We haven't lost hope. Hope is only gone when the last buzzer sounds," said Jones, who had 13 points off the bench in Game 5. "We have another game and then another game. We're not worried about anything."

Joe Lago is the NBA editor for ESPN.com.

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