INDIANAPOLIS - Vince Carter had to take some time to think about the last time he's played this well in the playoffs.
Finally, he recalled the 2001 Eastern Conference semifinals, when he averaged more than 30 points for Toronto in a seven-game series best remembered for his scoring duel with Philadelphia's Allen Iverson.
Now, Carter is averaging 30 points, nearly nine rebounds and five assists in New Jersey's first-round Eastern Conference series against the Indiana Pacers. His 34-point, 15-rebound effort in a 92-86 win Tuesday night gave the Nets a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Thursday in Indianapolis.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle is running out of options against the eight-year veteran, but he'll have to come up with something for his team to avoid elimination.
"We'll continue to explore things, but there are very few gimmicks left," Carlisle said Wednesday. "A lot of it is going to come down to how we respond as a team. ... It's never on one guy defensively to stop Carter, it's a five-man responsibility."
While others such as Cleveland's LeBron James and Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant have dominated the headlines, Carter has quietly been one of the most productive players in the 2006 playoffs.
"Right now he's doing it all - rebounding, finding the open guy, scoring, playing great defense," Nets point guard Jason Kidd said. "Maybe this is the best that I've seen."
Carter's high-flying slam with 28 seconds left in Game 5 came against rookie Danny Granger, not an ideal matchup for the Pacers. Indiana has alternated Granger, Fred Jones and Stephen Jackson on Carter and has even used some zone to try to force him into poor outside shots.
But nothing has worked since Carter's 12-for-33 shooting in Game 1, though he still finished with 31 points in that contest.
"We've got to stop him from getting to the paint and dunking," Jackson said. "We've got to limit his open 3s that he's getting in transition and we've got to try to do better defense on the ball because he's getting to the lane too easily."
Indiana forward Jermaine O'Neal said Granger has been forced to take on Carter during the series, while the Pacers are also struggling with injuries that have forced starters Peja Stojakovic and Jeff Foster to miss games.
"Danny Granger has done a great job," O'Neal said. "I tip my hat off to that guy because he's been thrown into the fire in a major, major way on the national scene. I think this will make him a stronger player."
The Pacers know they need to contest Carter's shots.
"We've got to make it as tough on him as possible," Jones said. "He's a great player, he's going to make tough shots. We've just got to make sure that every shot that he shoots, we've got a hand up and hopefully he misses."
Despite his struggles in the opener, Carter is shooting 48 percent against the Pacers. He also wants to be known as more than just a scorer.
"I feel like if I just play my game and not try to overdo it, I'll be OK," he said. "If I go out there and try and show, 'Look this is what I can do,' I'll get caught up in it and not play at my best."
While the Pacers have struggled to find a dependable playmaker in clutch situations this season, the Nets know Carter is their ace.
"We're blessed," Nets coach Lawrence Frank said. "We have Vince, Jason and Richard (Jefferson), all of whom are very capable at the end of a game of making big-time plays. When (Nenad) Krstic is in the mix, he has also shown that he can deliver.
But Vince has been the guy who, when we put the ball in his hands in different situations to make plays, he's delivered in a big way for us the majority of the time."
Associated Press Writer Dave Porter in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.