Indiana holds off Sixers to complete four-game sweep
Posted: Sunday May 23, 1999 11:41 PM
That disturbing image, indelible on this team's conscience, was about the only thing that could scare the Pacers.
Indiana, playing like a team on a championship mission, shook off a 10-minute field goal drought in the fourth quarter and swept the Philadelphia 76ers with an 89-86 victory Sunday to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
"I've got a veteran team on my hands, with one thing on their minds," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "To win a championship."
Indiana, rescued by another clutch shot from Reggie Miller, improved to 7-0 in the playoffs and advanced to the conference finals for the second straight year and fourth time in six seasons. Last year, Indiana was ousted in seven games by the Chicago Bulls.
The Pacers spent the entire offseason and lockout stewing in the loss, vowing to make a championship run with Jordan in retirement.
"Last year in Game 7, we left with a bad taste in our mouths," said Miller, who had 23 points and buried the Sixers with a running bank shot with 91 seconds left. "We felt we were the better team. But the more experienced team, the Chicago Bulls, beat us."
That's what happened in this game, which ended with Allen Iverson receiving hugs from Miller, Mark Jackson and coach Larry Brown. The scene may come to symbolize the passing of the torch in the Eastern Conference -- from the aging powers that were constantly denied by the Bulls to these young 76ers.
"The torch was passed when Michael Jordan retired," said Rick Mahorn, who played a physical role for the 76ers because Theo Ratliff was out with a calf injury. "Anybody can take that thing and run with it."
Iverson scored 25 points despite reinjuring his bruised right thigh in a collision with Antonio Davis in the second quarter. He left to a standing ovation with 1.2 seconds remaining while a fan waved a large placard that read, "We'll be back."
Miller likened the Sixers to the Pacers when they became a playoff contender under Brown several years ago -- and even compared Iverson to Jordan.
"They played fantastic in this series," Miller said. "They have a fantastic player in Allen. Other than Jordan, we've sort of been able to handle players like that. You've got to put him in that class. Well, not necessarily in that class, but you've got to put him up there."
Dale Davis had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Jackson had 14 points and 13 assists.
Matt Geiger, who didn't have a rebound in Game 3, had 23 points and 13 rebounds for the 76ers, whose first playoff appearance since 1991 ended with their first sweep in a seven-game series.
The Pacers, coached by Brown for two of their conference finals appearances, will play New York or Atlanta.
"I congratulated them," Brown said of his former team, "and I want them to move on."
It is no secret which team Miller wants to face. The Knicks.
"It would certainly be fitting, because of all the history between the two teams," said Miller, whose choking gesture to Knicks fan Spike Lee in the 1994 conference finals is the flash point of a heated rivalry. "Personally, it would be great.
Chris Mullin had 16 points, including a 3-pointer with 2:02 left that was the Pacers' first field goal of the fourth quarter after 13 straight misses. In fact, it was the Pacers' first field goal since 2:12 of the third.
"There was no need to panic," Miller said. "We worked on those situations all during the lockout."
After the 76ers finally followed through on a late comeback and took their first second-half lead of the series, Mullin hit a 3-pointer to make it 83-82 Philadelphia with 2:02 left.
Iverson was short on a driving baseline jumper, and Miller pump-faked and kissed in a running bank shot for an 84-83 Indiana lead with 1:31 remaining. Smits put in a shot by Mullin that was blocked, then ran to the corner and blocked a jumper by Iverson that had the Sixers screaming.
"You saw the play," said Iverson, knocked into the Pacers' bench by the 7-foot-4 Smits. "I thought I got fouled, But maybe it shouldn't have come down to that. We knew we weren't out of it. We've done it before."
The Sixers, who couldn't finish fourth-quarter runs in the first three games, finally broke through when Tyrone Hill gathered up a short shot by Iverson and tossed it in for a 79-77 lead with 4:28 left.
After Jackson missed a baby hook for Indiana's 11th consecutive miss in the fourth, Iverson drove to the middle, dished to Eric Snow and ran to the corner for a catch-and-shoot 16-footer that made it 81-77 with 3:56 left.
But it was all for naught. Smits and Jackson missed again, and Snow made two straight bad passes. Then came Mullin's 3-pointer and Miller's runner that guaranteed Indiana some rest before the next series.
"It felt like a six- or seven-game series," Miller said.
Notes: Some scribble on a chalkboard in the Pacers' locker room said it all. In the city where Moses Malone made his famous, "Fo, fo, fo!" battle cry in 1983, someone on the Pacers wrote, "Next! 8 Mo!" ... Ratliff, who was third in the league in blocks, had been the only Sixer to play in every regular-season and playoff game.
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