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Artest leads Pacers' rally past Pistons

4/5/2003

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) -- Ron Artest kept his cool, and the Indiana Pacers stayed hot.

Artest scored all 20 of his points during a second-half
comeback, and Jermaine O'Neal had 29 points and 13 rebounds as
Indiana beat the Detroit Pistons 98-92 Friday night.

Indiana has won four of its last five games after losing 15 of
19 to pull within 2½ games of Detroit in the Central Division. The
Eastern Conference-leading Pistons have just a half-game lead over
New Jersey after losing three of five.

"Detroit is a very a good team, well-coached and very good
defensively, but offensively we don't think they have enough to
beat us,'' O'Neal said. "They are the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, but hopefully we'll get to see these guys in the playoffs.''

One day after Artest was fined $20,000 by the NBA for making an
obscene gesture to the crowd in Cleveland, he kept his cool despite
being called for two fouls just seconds apart early in the first
quarter and a third midway through the second.

Artest has been suspended 12 games this season for a variety of bad behavior.

"Basketball is just like a soap opera,'' Artest said. "I'm like the enemy in every arena. To me, I take it as a comic book. I'm the villain, but the good villain.

"Whatever people are going to say, they're going to say. You can't change people's minds. As long as I'm going out there, trying to win games and not getting suspended, I'm happy.''

The Pistons will have a tough time holding their slim lead in the East this weekend because they play San Antonio on Sunday at home after the Nets play at Toronto.

"This was a tough loss and it should be an eye-opening loss, especially after losing to Toronto'' said Cliff Robinson, who had eight points and eight assists. "For us, we're still in the driver's seat. It's just a matter of us taking care of business.''

Chauncey Billups led the Pistons with 27 points, and Richard
Hamilton added 22. Ben Wallace had 15 rebounds, four blocks and
four points.

After trailing for much of the game, Indiana took control with a
13-2 run over the final minute of the third quarter and the first
few minutes of the fourth to go ahead 88-80. The Pistons scored
just four points over the first nine-plus minutes of the final
quarter.

"We just were a little bit tougher and wanted it a little more,'' Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said.

Three Pacers took turns leading the scoring output.

Reggie Miller scored 12 of his 20 points in the first quarter,
O'Neal had 15 in the second and Artest 16 in the third.

"When we play like we did tonight, we can beat anybody,'' O'Neal said. "That's what we did in the 40-plus games before the All-Star break.''

O'Neal and Detroit's Mehmet Okur played after missing the previous game with sprained ankles. Okur scored one point in 11 minutes.

Billups scored 15 points as Detroit took a 31-25 lead in the
first quarter. The Pistons led 54-46 at halftime.

"Obviously, it was a disappointing loss for us,'' Detroit coach
Rick Carlisle said. "When you take an eight-point lead into
halftime, it's important to come out with the same kind of energy
and we just didn't do it.

Game notes
Indiana outscored the Pistons 34-24 in the third quarter.
... The Pacers tied the season series at two in the final
regular-season meeting. ... If Wallace can maintain his
league-leading averages in rebounds and blocks, he will be the
first player in NBA history to do it twice. Last year, Wallace
joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton and Hakeem Olajuwon as the
only players to lead the league in both categories. ... Indiana is
15-23 on the road.