Artest comes up big defensively

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Ron Artest has made his case for the NBA
All-Star team.

The Indiana forward was not voted a starter by the fans on
Thursday, but his performance in the Pacers' 99-98 victory over the
Boston Celtics on Saturday night might be enough to sway league
coaches, who also vote players onto the team.

Artest had 23 points, five steals and a late stop on Paul
Pierce, whose 3-pointer with 25 seconds left rallied the Celtics
from a 13-point deficit.

A Pacers shot clock violation turned the ball over to Boston a
possession later. The Celtics tried to set up a play for Pierce in
the halfcourt after a timeout, but Artest's suffocating defense
forced Walter McCarty into a bad pass and prevented Pierce from
getting in position for a catch and shoot.

Artest's efforts helped extend a three-game winning streak for
the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers (35-13).

"The play was supposed to go to me," said Pierce, who finished
with 24 points after picking up three fouls in the first half. "It
was going to be a short pass and I was going to be able to get a
shot off.

"The pass was off just a little bit. I couldn't get my hands on
it fast enough."

Artest, who finished fourth in the All-Star balloting at
forward, said he didn't do anything special to shut down Pierce on

"I just played regular defense and tried to stay with him
wherever he went," he said. "It was maybe a little extra effort
but not any more than I try to bring to the table every night."

Ricky Davis shouldered much of the early scoring load for the
Celtics (22-27), scoring 18 points in the first half to deferring
to Pierce.

Davis finished with 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, while McCarty
added 15 for the Celtics, now 0-3 since John Carroll took over as
interim coach Jan. 27.

Artest was just as assertive for the Pacers. He hit three
3-pointers in a 43-point first quarter Indiana, which opened the
game on 72 percent shooting and briefly flirted with the team
record for most points in a quarter.

They finished with 43 -- two short of the record established
against San Antonio on Jan. 2, 1991.

Al Harrington led Indiana with 27 points, helping to make up for
the loss of leading scorer Jermaine O'Neal, who left in the second
quarter what team officials described as a neck strain. Pacers
coach Rick Carlisle said O'Neal is listed as day-to-day.

The All-Star forward appeared to grab his right shoulder after
blocking a shot from Davis with 5:47 left.

"He's sore and walking around with a stiff neck," Carlisle
said. "He took a pretty good shot."

The play gave O'Neal 700 blocks for his career, making him only
the fourth Pacer to have reached that milestone.

Anthony Johnson scored 11 points for Indiana. Reggie Miller and
Austin Croshere added nine apiece.

Boston, which trailed 59-53 at halftime, went on a 6-0 run in
the third quarter capped by McCarty's 3-pointer to pull a 66-all
tie with 5:22 to go.

Game notes
The Pacers activated Kenny Anderson, on the injured list
since Dec. 24 with a sprained right calf. Jamison Brewer was placed
on the injured list Saturday with a sprained right big toe.
Carlisle said Brewer's injury happened in Friday's practice. ...
Czech native Jiri Welsch was a teammate of Pacers center Primoz
Brezec on the Olimpija Ljubljana team in the Slovenian League.

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