Pacers, Artest win series

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

MIAMI - Ron Artest made the Heat's promise an empty one.

Insulted by Miami players guaranteeing a deciding seventh game, Artest scored 27 points, helping the Indiana Pacers beat the Heat 73-70 to win the Eastern Conference semifinals Tuesday night.

Indiana won the series 4-2, snapping the Heat's 18-game home winning streak and advancing to the conference finals for the first time since 2000 and the sixth time since 1994.

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''You're talking about them playing the team with the best record,'' Artest said. ''How can you say that? How can you guarantee a win when you're up against a team that has done what we've done?''

Indiana advanced to face the Detroit-New Jersey winner in the Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons beat the Nets on Sunday night to force a seventh game Thursday night in Auburn Hills.

In the Western Conference, Sacramento will be at Minnesota for Game 7 on Wednesday night, with the winner advancing to play the Los Angeles Lakers.

It didn't come easily for the Pacers, who shot only 32.4 percent, and turned the ball over 18 times - nine in the first quarter alone. They also only got seven points from Jermaine O'Neal, who had scored 88 points in the previous three games.

Yet Indiana's offensive ineptitude couldn't even be matched by the Heat, who shot 30.5 percent, the lowest in the franchise's postseason history. Rookie guard Dwyane Wade - who, along with reserve forward Malik Allen, guaranteed the Game 6 win - was 10-for-16 from the floor and scored a team-high 24 points.

But the rest of the Heat players combined to shoot only 22.7 percent, making a mere 15 of 66 shots.

''The challenge for our team tonight was to stare one of the great challenges in the face,'' Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. ''And that is this building, their team, a very strong-willed Miami team, and find a way. And that's exactly what they did.''

Reggie Miller had 15 points, and Jamaal Tinsley scored 10 for Indiana, which held a 53-42 rebounding edge and got to the foul line 11 more times than Miami - making seven more than the Heat, 26-19.

Lamar Odom had 22 points, and Eddie Jones added 16 for Miami, but the team's two leading scorers in the regular season combined to miss 27 of their 38 shots from the floor.

''I am not disappointed in my players or in my team,'' Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. ''I am more disappointed for them.''

Artest hit a pair of free throws with 2:13 left in the third quarter to give the Pacers a 57-47 lead, their biggest of the game. But the Heat responded with a 15-4 run over the next six minutes, taking a 62-61 lead when Wade - who scored Miami's last eight points in the burst - hit a short baseline jumper with 8:22 left.

''If we were going out, we were going out fighting,'' Wade said.

The lead would change hands three more times following Wade's basket, the last coming with 3:39 left when Artest scored to put Indiana ahead 67-66. The Heat missed seven of their last eight shots; Caron Butler, who was 1-for-9, even had a dunk attempt blocked by O'Neal with 1:06 left.

''Our defense kept fighting,'' Heat center Brian Grant said. ''It was probably one of our best defensive efforts of the year. We just couldn't put the ball in the basket.''

Miami scored 20 points in the first quarter - and didn't get out of the teens in any of the last three.

''We needed to play at an unbelievably high level defensively and we needed to find a way to put the ball in the basket,'' Carlisle said.

Anthony Johnson made two free throws to give Indiana a 73-69 lead with 14.7 seconds to play. Odom then hit a free throw to make it a three-point game.

Artest, who had been 10-of-13 from the free-throw line, missed two with 9.1 seconds left to give the Heat some life. With Wade on the bench, Rafer Alston, the Heat's best 3-point shooter, shot an airball from several feet beyond the arc.

Miller rebounded just before the final buzzer and threw the ball skyward as the final buzzer sounded.

''You can't take anything for granted, and we didn't,'' Miller said. ''But you have to put forth an above-and-beyond type effort, especially on the road.''

Notes: Butler's steal in the first quarter was his 28th of the postseason, breaking the team record. Tim Hardaway had 27 steals in the 1997 playoffs. … Among celebrities attending the game were actor David Caruso, rapper Bow Wow and former NFL star Dan Marino.