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Pacers Need a New Script

Game 2: Whether they shoot better or defend O'Neal better, something has to change.

June 09, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attacked by Shaq, statistics and history, the Indiana Pacers need some significant adjustments for tonight's Game 2, and not only from a chiropractor.

There are bones and ligaments to realign, frayed seams, gnarled parts, off-track shooters and a smiling 330-pound Goliath to delete from their nightmares and extricate from the lane, though neither removal will be particularly easy.

And, in the wake of Shaquille O'Neal's 43-point, 19-rebound, footloose, Rik Smits-smashing romp in Wednesday's NBA finals-opening Laker gold rush, there is also this piece of NBA semi-inevitability:

Laker Coach Phil Jackson, over his 10-season NBA coaching career, has won all 26 playoff series in which his team took Game 1.

That's 23-0 with the Chicago Bulls and 3-0 so far in his first Laker playoff venture.

(Jackson is 4-3 in playoff series when losing Game 1.)

So, Larry Bird, what happens now that O'Neal has outscored Reggie Miller, 43-7, and now that the original plan of playing O'Neal as straight up as possible has been rendered obsolete?

What happens after Game 1 of the finals seemed so, well, final?

"It's going to be tough, no question about it--it's not an easy series for us," the Indiana coach said after the Pacers' practice at Staples Center on Thursday. "The matchups aren't good.

"They're a quick team, they're big with Shaq, and strong. They're able to score points in bunches.

"But, yeah, if we have the effort of Mark Jackson [18 points, seven assists] that we did last night, Jalen [Rose] picks his game up, Reggie picks his game up, and Rik starts hitting a few of the shots that he had last night, we'll be right there."

The Lakers assume that Miller, who missed 15 of 16 shots in Game 1, will make many more in Game 2, and that Smits and Rose (a combined 10 for 24) will also be larger offensive factors.

But more important, as Sacramento, Phoenix and Portland did after O'Neal torchings in Game 1 this postseason, Indiana will have to assign several more players to go directly at O'Neal as soon as the ball goes into him, and that the Pacers will pressure the entry passers with far more zeal.

In Game 1 against the Pacers, O'Neal almost always was able to set himself up in the paint--where he can take half a step, lean in and dunk--and Laker passers rarely had to do much more than dribble down and casually dump it in against the Pacer defense.

"You know, teams know that it's going to be very difficult to beat us if he averages [35 points or more] consistently throughout a series," Phil Jackson said.

"So they have to throw more men at him, throw different strategies, so that's the adjustment we'll find from Indiana. We'll have to make the adjustment on the move in tomorrow's game."

Said Bird, who did not disagree that the Pacer defenders should have and probably will send O'Neal to the free-throw line more than the six times he shot free throws Wednesday (he made one):

"After the way Shaquille ate us up last night? Obviously, we're going to try to be more aggressive. We got there last night on the double-teams, but it wasn't aggressive.

"If you come down there soft on him, he'll make you pay for it every time. The one thing I want us to adjust to is that we have to play hard. When we play hard good things happen."

The Trail Blazers tossed the Lakers into long periods of offensive anguish by attacking the Laker guards, sending Scottie Pippen and Rasheed Wallace at O'Neal as the pass went in, and racing back to the perimeter once O'Neal was forced to abandon his post moves, and daring the Lakers to jump-shoot themselves to victory.

Three times, it worked.

If put in a similar situation, Laker backup center John Salley, a veteran of the Detroit Piston "Bad Boys" championship teams of the late 1980s, said that he, Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman would've had a plan for O'Neal.

"Shaq would've had to fight," Salley said. "Let me tell you something: I love Shaq to death. He would've thrown a punch at Bill. And that's exactly what we would've wanted to happen."

Indiana must make do with Dale Davis, a high-quality power forward who is not nearly as athletic as Wallace, and either Mark Jackson, Miller or Rose (though Rose guards Glen Rice, whom Indiana does not want to leave free) swooping in, none of whom remind anyone of Pippen.

As guard Ron Harper explained Thursday, until pressured to do otherwise, the Laker offense is simple, methodical and all about the Xs and O'Neals:

"Everybody gets Shaq the ball. Ain't no choice. You have to get Shaq the ball. Shaq demands the basketball. When he comes in, he goes, 'Come to me. Come to me.'

"What does that mean? Get him the ball. He wants the ball. So I give him the ball a lot. I think the whole team does. Everybody gives him the ball. Even Phil gives him the ball from the bench."

And what about Kobe Bryant? Does O'Neal figure that Bryant, after his 14-point effort in Game 1, will be a big factor in Game 2?

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