Regular Season Series (Game 1 of 4)

Series starts 12/30

Game 1: Thursday, December 30th
Game 2: Sunday, March 20th
Game 3: Tuesday, March 22nd
Game 4: Wednesday, April 13th

Pacers 96

(15-13, 7-7 away)

Nets 83

(10-18, 6-8 home)

7:30 PM ET, December 30, 2004

IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ

1 2 3 4 T
IND 26 18 22 3096
NJ 17 17 29 2083

Top Performers

Ind: J. O'Neal 31 Pts, 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 Blk

NJ: R. Buford 20 Pts, 7 Reb, 2 Ast

Suspension served, O'Neal's relief evident

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Mentally drained from a court battle and slowed by an illness, Jermaine O'Neal showed that being on a basketball court has a way of making everything right.

Hours after a judge ruled that he didn't have to serve the final 10 games of a suspension, O'Neal scored 31 points to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 96-83 win over the New Jersey Nets on Thursday night.

"It was somewhat a relief," O'Neal said after his long day that started with an appearance in a New York City federal courthouse and ended in an arena in New Jersey.

"It was something I didn't have to think about," the All-Star forward added. "I thought about my teammates more than anything. I've been back for three games and we're getting that family atmosphere and starting to trust each other."

With O'Neal back in the lineup, the Pacers have won three straight games, matching their longest streak since the Nov. 19 brawl against Detroit that led to multiple suspensions.

O'Neal got a 25-game suspension, but an arbitrator reduced it to 15 games last week allowing him to return to action. U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels upheld that decision in New York about three hours before the Pacers and Nets took the court.

"Since he got back from his little suspension, he's been making those shots," said Pacers center Jeff Foster, who had 16 points and a season-high 16 rebounds. "He's basically unstoppable. He's made them the last three games. Knowing now that he has the weight lifted off his shoulders, we expect great things from him the rest of the way."

Austin Croshere added 17 points for Indiana, which spoiled Vince Carter's New Jersey debut in a Nets' uniform. His appearance drew a sellout crowd of 20,174, a Nets' home record.

"I felt like I let them down," said Carter, who had 25 points, eight rebounds and a couple of highlight dunks. "I didn't play well. I think I was trying too hard."

In contrast, O'Neal seemed relaxed on the court, despite not having eaten since Wednesday afternoon because of an illness. After missing his first shot, he hit five in a row to help the Pacers grab the lead for good in the first quarter.

In a span between the second and third quarters, he missed eight straight shots and once sat down next to two young children at courtside to laugh about his woes.

However, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, O'Neal took over and scored nine points.

After Richard Jefferson scored to cut the Pacers' lead to 66-65, O'Neal converted a three-point play to spark a 15-4 spurt that gave Indiana an 81-69 lead. O'Neal, who fouled out in the closing minutes, also had two other baskets in the run.

"Tonight he played a monster game, and there were a lot of guys who stepped up in critical roles," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said of O'Neal.

Jefferson and Rodney Buford added 20 apiece. Jason Kidd had 11 rebounds, 10 assists and four points.

Jamaal Tinsley, who missed his first nine shots from the field, had 15 points for the Pacers, including a 3-pointer in the deciding run.< ^Notes@: The Nets will donate a percentage of all tickets sold over the next two weeks to UNICEF to aid those in Asia affected by the tsunamis. ... Croshere hit a running 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter, but a review showed it came just after the horn.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

Points 96 83
FGM-FGA 33-75 (.440) 28-73 (.384)
3PM-3PA 8-22 (.364) 5-11 (.455)
FTM-FTA 22-34 (.647) 22-30 (.733)
Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 10-45 12-47
Assists 24 21
Turnovers 14 19
Steals 13 6
Blocks 6 4
Fast Break Points 14 13
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 27 (0/1) 26 (1/0)
Largest Lead 16 0

Top Performers

New Jersey
Jermaine O'Neal O'Neal
Points: 31
Reb: 7
Ast: 2
Stl: 1
Blk: 1
Rodney Buford Buford
Points: 20
Reb: 7
Ast: 2
Stl: 0
Blk: 0