Mercer's 22 leads five Pacers in double figures


MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Indiana Pacers had too much offensive firepower for the Minnesota Timberwolves to handle.

Ron Mercer scored 22 points off the bench and Jermaine O'Neal added 20 to lead five Pacers in double figures as Indiana beat Minnesota 107-101 Saturday night for their seventh straight win.

"This was a big win for us,'' Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said. "It was on the road in a building where their team has a lot of success. We're lucky to get both matches early.''

The Pacers swept the Timberwolves for the first time since the 1997-98 season.

Off to their best start since the 1969-70 season in the ABA, the Pacers jumped out early and never trailed. They held off a fourth-quarter rally and hung on to their lead at the foul line.

"They outmuscled us, outhustled us,'' Minnesota's Troy Hudson said. "They came out more aggressive and wanted it more.''

Guarded mostly by Kevin Garnett, O'Neal had 12 second-half points. The two players, both South Carolina natives who made the jump from high school to the NBA, played physical defense against each other in the low post.

"K.G. is one of the best forwards in the game,'' O'Neal said. "He's like a measuring stick for myself every time I play him. He's competitive no matter what the score is.''

The score was always in Indiana's favor.

"I think their depth at the end of the game won it,'' Garnett

"We're not a deep team. We're a team where our identity is that
we work hard and that we play hard.''

But it wasn't enough to handle the Pacers, who had an answer for
every charge Minnesota made.

After falling behind 79-64 in the third quarter, Garnett led
Minnesota on a 13-4 run spanning into the fourth. Garnett, who led
the Wolves with 27 points, nailed a 3-pointer with 7:28 left to
play to pull Minnesota to 83-77.

Indiana responded with timely baskets from Jamal Tinsley, Brad Miller and Al Harrington.

Kendall Gill pulled the Wolves within six with 1:23 left on a
corner jump shot. But Wally Szczerbiak missed a 3-pointer at the
52.9 mark after an Indiana turnover.

The Wolves had a second chance when Garnett blocked O'Neal's
shot on the ensuing possession and Tinsley was called for a
flagrant foul on Gill with 39.6 seconds left. Gill hit both free
throws to make it 98-94. But Anthony Peeler missed a 3 and Gill
fouled Mercer, who calmly sank both free throws.

The Wolves had to foul down the stretch and Indiana hit seven free throws to seal it.

"If we would've played that way from the opening tip, it would
have been a different game,'' Hudson said.

Artest and Tinsley each had 17 points for Indiana, while
Harrington added 14.

Szczerbiak had 19 points, Troy Hudson 18 points and Rasho Nesterovic had 16 for Minnesota.

On 49.4 percent shooting, Indiana's accuracy was too much for Minnesota, which has lost four of its last five.

While the Pacers seemingly couldn't miss, the Timberwolves were missing -- badly.

Nesterovic was blocked on consecutive trips down the floor. Gill committed an offensive foul after an Indiana miss. Szczerbiak missed an easy layup. And coach Flip Saunders screamed at his players during a 20-second timeout.

Indiana blistered the Wolves with their first-half shooting.
After trading buckets early, the Pacers went on a 12-0 run in the
second quarter to take a 47-29 lead.

"We had to come out early and play aggressive and try to get good shots every time down the court,'' Tinsley said. "We didn't want to let them get off to an early lead and get their confidence.''

Despite their shooting struggles, the Wolves held Indiana
without a field goal for the final 7:24 of the first half and used
a 15-4 run to pull to 51-44 at the half.

Game notes
Reggie Miller (ankle) missed his ninth game on the injured list. He's missed more games this season than any other in his 16-year NBA career. ... Nesterovic played his 250th game. He picked
up a technical in the first half for arguing a no-call on a blocked shot. ... Minnesota gave up a season-high 31 first quarter points. ... Indiana became just the fourth team in 11 games to shoot over 40 percent against the Wolves.