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PACERS 103, CELTICS 90

Glass jaws

Celtics KO'd as Pacers take it on the rebound

Stop if you've read this before. The Celtics lost a game because they got crushed on the glass and couldn't take care of the basketball. OK, you've stopped. It's not exactly a news bulletin.

Once again, the Celtics wasted an opportunity for a home win against a quality opponent (Eastern Conference variety) because they couldn't get a rebound and gave away far too many points off miscues. The result was a 103-90 setback to the Indiana Pacers before the sixth sellout crowd (18,624) of the season at the FleetCenter.

Boston played a terrific first half, was within a point after three quarters, and then got blowtorched in the fourth, when the Pacers opened with 13 straight points and expanded the run to a humbling 26-8. The Celtics made a hasty retreat for Hanscom Field after this one -- they're in Chicago tonight -- and you could understand why.

Indiana got a terrific game from Ron Artest, who had not only 28 points but also five steals, three of them in the third quarter when the Pacers started to put the clamps on. Jermaine O'Neal had 21 points and 13 rebounds, as Indiana finished with a 54-43 advantage on the glass, which translated into a 16-7 advantage in second-chance points. The Pacers also forced 18 Celtics turnovers -- 12 in the second half -- which they turned into 27 points.

"If you can't handle the glass and take care of the ball, you're not going to win many basketball games against good teams," said Celtics coach Jim O'Brien. "You do that, it doesn't matter if you shoot 50 percent [which the Celtics did].

"We overdribbled and we turned it over as a result," O'Brien said. Agreed Paul Pierce, who had a team-high 18 points in a season-low 29 minutes, "In the second half, we broke down in too many areas. Turnovers and rebounding really killed us."

The Celtics led by 6 at the half after being ahead by as many as 15 in the second quarter. They started out crisp, efficient, and the Pacers were, as Artest said, "way too sluggish." Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said he was happy to be down by only a half-dozen at the half. He was even happier when Indiana came out strong in the third and took a 73-72 lead after three. And then the game became completely unhinged for the Celtics.

Indiana got two free throws from Austin Croshere to open the fourth, making it 75-72. Then Reggie Miller, who to that point had scored 7 points and missed six straight shots, drained a trey. It was a sign that the deluge was coming. Miller made two more treys and Al Harrington added two free throws to complete the 13-0 run, giving Indiana an 86-72 lead with 8:55 to play. The Celtics got their first hoop 15 seconds later (a Mike James jumper) but never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.

While Miller was the unquestioned fourth-quarter star, Artest and O'Neal (three blocks) were there for most of the game. Artest hounded Pierce all night. "I think he frustrated Pierce, and everyone else on our team picked up on that," Miller said.

Pierce gave Artest credit, but also noted, "It's not about the one-on-one matchup. It's about what we do as a team. That determines how successful we'll be."

They were not very successful when they needed to be. Miller drained another hoop (a very longish two) after a Mark Blount turnover to offset James's hoop. And after Boston had pulled within 90-80 with 6:53 left, the Pacers called time and hit the Celtics with a 9-0 run. O'Neal started the run with a layup and Artest closed it with the second of his treys. He was 10 of 21 from the field and made all six of his free throws.

That spurt blew the lead out to 99-80 with 4:11 left, and soon the Celtics regulars took seats on the bench. There would be not even a glimpse of a comeback.

For the first time since Dec. 3-5, the Celtics have lost consecutive games. That may seem like a long time, but it's been almost as long -- Dec. 12-13 -- since they've won two in a row.

Even in the East, it's hard to make up ground with that kind of math.

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