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Indiana 89, New Jersey 83

  |   April 20, 2002 at 7:26 PM
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., April 20 (UPI) -- Jermaine O'Neal scored 24 of his 30 points in the first half Saturday and Reggie Miller and Brad Miller combined for 13 fourth-quarter points as the Indiana Pacers surprised the New Jersey Nets, 89-83, in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference series.

It marked the second straight year Indiana won its playoff opener on the home court of the top seed in the East. Last year, the Pacers stunned the Philadelphia 76ers, then lost three in a row.

"I think it's pretty much the same," Reggie Miller said. "We played not as well as we should have last year against Philly and we got a victory. That was pretty much the same today as we played well in spurts. We let New Jersey back in the ballgame and made a game of it. But we found some way to win. Hopefully, it won't turn on us and lose three in a row like last year against Philly."

En route to a playoff career high, O'Neal connected on 11 of 16 shots in the first half, when Indiana shot 57 percent and opened a 52-42 lead. He made just two shots in the third quarter as New Jersey rallied and picked up his fourth foul early in the final period.

"We said if a guy is going to play me one on one, I am going to make him pay," said O'Neal, an All-Star for the first time this season. "I really think the entire game on Monday, I will be double-teamed right away. I was really surpised that they did not double-team right away to start this game."

When Pacers coach Isiah Thomas rested O'Neal, Reggie Miller and Brad Miller hit key shots.

Brad Miller, acquired with Ron Artest and Ron Mercer from the Chicago Bulls in a seven-player deal in February, had career playoff bests of 18 points and 12 rebounds in 38 minutes.

"We have not played them once since the trade and we are a totally different team than what they've seen in the scouting tape," Brad Miller said. "I just think we really came out determined because we wanted to get off to a good start in the series. We have been playing good basketball over the last week just to get into the playoffs, and the momentum from that just carried into tonight."

Playing in his 105th career playoff game, Reggie Miller made just six of 16 shots. But as he has throughout his 15-year career, he hit a three-pointer in a key situation.

After stealing a pass from Kenyon Martin, he took a pass from Jamaal Tinsley and nailed a 26-footer from the left wing to give Indiana a 74-71 lead with 6:43 remaining.

"If we just play hard and we end up losing, that is all we can ask for," Reggie Miller said. "They are supposed to beat us, they are the No. 1 seed."

Jason Kidd did his best to get his inexperienced teammates involved and finished with 26 points, nine assists and eight rebounds for New Jersey. But the Nets remained winless in the postseason since a 93-92 overtime triumph over the New York Knicks in the first round in 1994.

"I wasn't suprised," Kidd said. "I knew everyone was a little nervous or anxious. For a young team, you just have to play through that. Now we have a game under our belt. I think the guys will be a little bit more in tune to what to expect now.

"We can't worry about losing home court or getting home court back. We have to take one game at a time. But you have to give Indiana credit. They played a great game this afternoon. Monday's game is big for us. We have to come out like it's a must-win."

Martin had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Keith Van Horn added 10 points for the Nets.

Martin dunked off a missed jumper by Lucious Harris to pull New Jersey within 74-73 with 6:17 to go. Reggie Miller could not handle a pass from Ron Artest and Martin converted at the other end, hitting a running bank shot to give the Nets their final lead, 75-74, with 5:25 remaining.

Tinsley, who sat out nearly the entire third quarter with a knee injury, put the Pacers ahead for good at 76-75 on a layup with 4:35 left off a steal by Artest. A bad pass by Martin was picked off by Artest and he dunked to give the Pacers a three-point advantage.

Martin took a pass from Kidd and made a layup to get the Nets within 78-77 with 3:33 to go. Brad Miller responded as the 7-footer stepped out to the left baseline and nailed a 17-footer for an 80-77 edge with 2:56 to play.

New Jersey closed within one for the final time with 1:58 left when Kidd sliced through the lane for a layup. Reggie Miller again responded with a clutch shot, banking one in from the paint as he was fouled by Kidd.

After Miller made the free throw, Martin dunked to get the Nets within 83-81 with 86 seconds remaining. Artest and Brad Miller combined to make six of eight free throws the rest of the way.

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