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Artest keeps cool despite being provoked

2/12/2003

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Ron Artest wasn't going to let some
late-game jabbering by Cleveland send him into a mental meltdown.
Instead, a calm Artest simply walked away hoping to show he's a
changed man.

Jermaine O'Neal scored 28 points and Brad Miller had 25 as the
Indiana Pacers opened the second half of the season with Artest
back in the lineup and coach Isiah Thomas on the sidelines in a
107-96 victory over Cleveland on Tuesday night.

Artest scored 11 points in his first game since Jan. 27. More
importantly, he walked away from the taunts of Zydrunas Ilgauskas
and Jumaine Jones in the final minutes.

Artest, who already has been suspended seven games this season
for his behavior, felt Ilgauskas and Jones were trying to bait him
into another incident.

"I had a sense of that and I'm glad I caught on to that,''
Artest said. "Even if they weren't trying to bait me, I didn't
like the fact they got in my face. But that's part of the game. I
do the same thing.''

Artest completed a four-game suspension and Thomas had served a
two-game suspension. Even during the All-Star break, the pair were
making news. Thomas, who coached the East, angered Ilgauskas by
playing him only four minutes during Sunday's All-Star Game.

Artest was erroneously reported to be involved in an altercation
with Houston's James Posey at an NBA Players Association party in
Atlanta. Turns out, Artest was at Disney World.

"I'm not really sure where that came from. I was having a good
time,'' Artest said.

That good time extended onto the court, thanks to Jamaal Tinsley
who led Indiana's fast-breaking offense with 17 points and five
steals.

The Cavaliers, who trailed by as many as 17 points in the first
half, closed to 99-92 following a one-handed dunk by Ricky Davis.

It was 102-94 when Artest leapt over Ilgauskas while going after
a loose rebound. Ilgauskas took exception to the contact and said
some words to Artest. Then, on Indiana's inbounds pass, Jones tried
to antagonize Artest, but he wouldn't bite, putting his hand in
front of his face in ignoring them.

"When people come into the game saying 'Just bait him and he'll
unravel,' what they're saying is 'The only way to beat him is to
bait him,''' Thomas said.

O'Neal would hit a baseline 3-pointer to seal the win.

Jones led the Cavs with 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting,
including 5-for-5 from 3-point range. Davis scored 23 and Ilgauskas
had 18 points and 12 rebounds.

It wasn't quite the performance Ilgauskas was hoping for.

Cavs general manager Jim Paxson said Monday he hoped Ilgauskas
"takes it out on Indiana'' over the All-Star benching. Instead,
the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian scored only two points in the first half
and didn't find his groove until it was too late.

Ilgauskas said he didn't hold a grudge against Thomas.

"I made the All-Star team. That's all that counts,'' he said.
"I've been playing like that the whole season, so I didn't need
any extra pressure on myself.''

Rookie guard Carlos Boozer also was on the IR -- the Irritated
Report -- after he had a ball bounced off his forehead by Golden
State's Jason Richardson in the final seconds of Saturday's Rookie
Challenge. He refused to talk about the incident during Tuesday's
shootaround.

Then he was burned early by Tinsley, who is known as a poor
shooter (39 percent) because of his fondness for taking out-of-his
range jumpers. Instead, he drove the lane against Boozer for high-percentage layups and dished to O'Neal and Miller down low.

He didn't attempt a 3-pointer and went 8-for-14 from the floor,
leading the Pacers to a 56-44 halftime lead.

"I just came out and wanted to be aggressive,'' Tinsley said.
"I started making shots so that made me more aggressive. Tonight,
I was taking shots I was comfortable with.''

The Pacers spoiled the return of Cleveland coach Keith Smart,
whose baseline jumper gave Indiana University the 1987 NCAA
championship over Syracuse. Smart received a nice ovation during
pregame introductions.

The Cavaliers have lost 11 of 13 games.

"If I succeed and handle the things I can take care of, we can
pull out some wins,'' Smart said.

Game notes
The Pacers are 16-7 with their regular starting lineup. ...
O'Neal had his streak of nine straight double-doubles snapped. ...
The Cavaliers haven't won two straight games all year. ... About
three-quarters of the interview room has been converted into a
player's-only game room, complete with pool table, ping-pong table
and other assorted games.