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Slower pace works to Indy's advantage

BOSTON (AP) -- Jermaine O'Neal broke into a smile when asked
about returning to the scene of the ugly brawl that nearly ruined
the Indiana Pacers' season.

"It's only right," he said. "It's what I wanted. I wanted to
see that team, and I'm pretty sure Detroit is wanting to see us,
too."

He got his wish Saturday night when the Pacers beat the Boston
Celtics 97-70 in the deciding game of their first-round series and
advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pistons.
They did it with the slow pace they prefer, keeping alive the
18-year career of Reggie Miller.

The Game 7 rout was so complete that Boston coach Doc Rivers
began clearing his bench with 4:32 left. And Larry Bird, the former
Celtics great and now the Pacers president of basketball
operations, left his seat behind the Indiana bench with 3:31 to go.

"I don't know if the leprechauns took the day off," Pacers
coach Rick Carlisle said. "All I know is we had No. 33 sitting on
our side of the building. I've got to believe that makes a little
difference when you're here for a Game 7."

Now the team that has overcome suspensions, injuries and
disharmony moves on to a meeting with its biggest rival beginning
Monday night.

It'll be a rematch between teams that took part in a melee that
spilled into the stands during an early-season game at The Palace
in Auburn Hills, leading to the season-long suspension of Ron
Artest.

"Everything we've been through this year was nothing but fuel
for us," Stephen Jackson said. "It makes us want to win more and
play harder."

The Celtics played very poorly in a big game, missing easy shots
and allowing Indiana to take uncontested ones, and had the
second-lowest point total in their playoff history. They also lost
three home games for the first time in a seven-game series.

"In Game 7, for us to go out and play the way we did is
disappointing," Boston's Paul Pierce said. "No one wants to end
the season getting blown out."

Miller, who plans to end his 18-year career after this season,
took just five shots and scored five points. But Miller didn't have
to do much with Jackson scoring 24 points, Fred Jones 16 and O'Neal
15.

"I've had a great career, regardless of what happened
tonight," Miller said. "These guys need to win it for themselves.
I'm just glad I had the chance to play with them."

The Celtics were led by Antoine Walker with 20 points and Pierce
with 19, but both were out of the game with 4:20 left and Indiana
ahead 86-62.

"They kept playing and we stopped to take a look" in the
second half, Rivers said. "We hung our heads way too early in the
game."

Indiana turned a close game into a rout midway through the third
quarter with an 11-2 run that made the score 54-43 with 3:46 left.

Indiana was ahead 59-48 before scoring five of the last seven
points of the quarter, three by O'Neal, and led 64-50 going into
the final period.

Any realistic chance for the Celtics disappeared in the first
five minutes of the fourth quarter as the Pacers opened with a 12-5
spurt for a 76-55 lead. Backup guard Jones started it with two
3-pointers and ended it with a dunk with 7:36 to play.

"We turned the ball over way too much tonight," Walker said.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Pacers took their victory in
stride -- shaking hands with Celtics players while Rivers and
Carlisle did the same.

But the Celtics had trouble keeping their composure again,
drawing six technical fouls, and Perkins and Justin Reed were
ejected in the final minute for a scuffle with Pacers guard Eddie
Gill. In Game 3, Walker grabbed referee Tom Washington and was
suspended for a game. In Game 6, Pierce was ejected when he elbowed
Jamaal Tinsley.

Miller has spent his entire career with the Pacers, has hit the
most 3-pointers and is the 12th leading scorer in NBA history. He
also was chosen for five All-Star games and led the NBA in
free-throw accuracy this season for the fifth time.

But his chances of going out as a champion plummeted on Nov. 19
when several Pacers got into a brawl with fans in Detroit, leading
to suspensions that included Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for
15.

Then there were the injuries.

Miller missed the first 15 games with a broken left hand, O'Neal
sat out 22 straight with a sprained right shoulder before returning
for the last three regular-season games and the playoffs, and
Tinsley missed 33 straight, including the first four of the
playoffs.

The Celtics overcame their own difficulties in the regular
season. They were just 27-28 when Walker returned in a trade with
Atlanta, rejoining the team he spent seven seasons with before they
traded him to Dallas before the 2003-04 season.

They went 18-9 after that and gained homecourt advantage in the
playoffs.

Game notes
Jackson fell and clutched his left knee with 3.5 seconds
left in the first quarter, went to the bench and returned midway
through the second quarter. ... New England Patriots in the stands
included Deion Branch, David Givens, Daniel Graham and Doug Flutie.
... David Ortiz, David Wells and Keith Foulke also were there after
the Boston Red Sox's night game against Seattle was postponed by
rain. ... The playoff loss was the Celtics biggest Charlotte beat
them 119-89 on May 3, 1993.