Work in Sports
Pacers put away Knicks, move on to Finals
Posted: Saturday June 03, 2000 10:45 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Reggie Miller couldn't have picked a better time, a better place or a better way to finally put the Indiana Pacers into the NBA Finals.
Returning to the scene of some of his greatest playoff performances, Miller played the villain again with a vintage display of sharpshooting.
Scoring 34 points and making five 3-pointers -- four in a span of 6 1/2 minutes late in the game, Miller led the Pacers past New York 93-80 Friday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"This is our home away from home, and what better way to do it than on the road," Miller said. "Game 7 would have been, to tell the truth, too much pressure for us. We wanted to end it here. Tonight was our Game 7."
Miller, whose Garden stardom resume includes 25 points in the fourth quarter of a game in 1994, eight points in 8.9 seconds of a game in 1995 and a series-turning 3-pointer from in front of Spike Lee's courtside seat in 1998, can call this episode Chapter Four.
In an outburst that took the fight out of the no longer resilient Knicks, Miller started his shooting spree with a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to send the game into the fourth tied at 62.
His next 3 gave the Pacers the lead for good, his next made it a seven-point game and his last restored a seven-point lead with 6:08 left. He added eight more points on free throws the rest of the way for what was easily his best game of the series. It was his best single moment at Madison Square Garden in two years, even though the teams also met last year in the conference finals.
"I might hate, dislike, whatever word you want to use for New York, but I needed that fire last year. I never talked trash, I gave them all the respect, and I think that killed my game because I wasn't aggressive for the whole series," Miller said.
It was that deep-seated hatred, nurtured over seven years of battles between the teams, that gave Miller the extra edge this year.
So many years of coming so close, so many years of never winning the big one -- something had to inspire Miller to lead his team where it has never been before.
"I had to start as soon as they won in Miami, I had to start," he said. "You have to hate someone. There's no way you can play against a team if you like them, and through years past I always hated New York. Last year, I didn't hate them because I thought it was going to be easy."
This year, though, he professed his hatred the day before Game 1 and was the only player from either team to talk up the rivalry.
This was the fifth time in seven years that the Pacers had an opportunity to get to the finals with just one victory, all five chances coming on the road. And after losing all those games -- twice to the Knicks in 1994, once each to Orlando in 1995 and Chicago in 1998 -- the Pacers finally won one.
"Unbelievable feeling," Pacers guard Mark Jackson said. "Reggie and I have been talking about this for years and years and years, time and time again keeping each other up all night long, calling in the middle of the night wondering.
"And now, to have the opportunity to go ahead and represent the Eastern Conference in the finals is absolutely phenomenal. To finish it off was absolutely awesome."
Miller handled the clinching moment with class, hugging teammate Dale Davis at the final buzzer and then jumping into the arms of Jalen Rose.
Some 50 feet away, Lee stood on his feet, an orange towel draped around his shoulders, and joined the Garden crowd in a polite applause.
There was simply no fight left in the Knicks at the end after so many episodes of playing their best when things looked their worst.
"We talked a whole lot about the noise and what we were going to do if we won, but New York was very gracious last year in upsetting us," Miller said. "Yeah, they were jumping up and down, but we would have, too.
"You never want to rub it in no one's face. No one likes losing. We know the feeling."
After Miller made his final 3-pointer with 6:08 left, the Knicks never got closer than seven again. As the clock ticked inside 20 seconds, the Knicks permitted Miller to dribble out the 24-second clock as he stood near midcourt.
Anticlimactic, maybe, but another unique Miller moment anyway.
Rose added 11 points and Travis Best 10 for the Pacers, who will play either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Portland Trail Blazers beginning on the road Wednesday night.
Latrell Sprewell had 32 points and Patrick Ewing 18 for the Knicks, whose quest for a return trip to the finals came up short as they were outscored 31-18 over the final 12 minutes.
"I don't know if we ran out of gas, I just think we got outplayed," coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
Miller finished 10-for-19 from the field, including 5-for-7 from 3-point range, and 9-for-9 from the line. His teammates combined to make just 19 shots.
Indiana led by nine at halftime but started the second half by missing 11 of its first 12 shots. Miller broke the string with a 3-pointer, and from there it got harder and harder for the teams to put points on the board.
Ewing gave the Knicks their first lead since the first quarter on two foul shots with 2:41 left, making it 58-57, and the Pacers finished with just 12 points in the third quarter -- the lowest-scoring quarter in their playoff history.
Miller hit a 3-pointer with 10:34 left for a 67-65 lead, then another almost two minutes later to complete a 10-0 run that made it 72-65. Miller's fifth 3-pointer made it 75-68, and a pair of foul shots made it 77-68 with 5:25 left.
New York's Charlie Ward hit a high-arching jumper as the 24-second clock expired with 5:11 left, but the Knicks would not score from the field again until 1:35 remained.
By then, it was much too late.
"Our offense was very stagnant and I told Larry (Bird) as well as Mark to run the offense -- every single play -- through me. I had to have my hands with the basketball," Miller said.
The Pacers led for most of the first quarter as they looked to run a bit more than usual and drove the ball to the basket. Indiana went to the line eight times in the quarter to none for New York and led 30-25 after 12 minutes.
The Knicks pulled within one midway through the second quarter as Allan Houston hit a jumper over Miller, but Miller came right back with a 19-footer to start Indiana on a 14-6 run that made it 50-41 at the break.
Sprewell started the third quarter with two pull-up jumpers on the break and a scoop shot from the lane, and a three-point play by Ewing with 8:17 left tied it at 52. With Sprewell and Ewing combining for 19 of their 21 points, the Knicks outscored Indiana 21-12 in the third quarter.
The final quarter, though, was Miller Time.
"He proved why he wears that (Superman) shirt," New York's Chris Childs said.
Notes: Van Gundy's first substitution was Camby for Ward, leaving New York without a point guard. One minute later, with the team looking awful on offense, backup Chris Childs checked in. Van Gundy went back to the big backcourt for the final 1:28 of the first half, and again it was ineffective. ... Camby, who had a terrible series, finished with no points, six rebounds and two fouls in 20 minutes. ... The Knicks fell to 1-5 in the postseason against the Pacers over the past two years with Ewing in the lineup. They were 5-1 without him.