Work in Sports
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Reggie Miller's hot hand finally warmed up Travis Best.
The red-hot Miller scored 18 of his playoff career-high 41 points in the fourth quarter and the ice-cold Best made a 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left as the Indiana Pacers escaped their Eastern Conference first-round series with a 96-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
"They were the better team," Miller said. "They definitely grew up and gave us more gray hairs, if you can believe that."
In a game where one less shot would have meant an embarrassing elimination for the top-seeded Pacers, Miller again discovered his clutch playoff shooting. After taking off the "Superman" shirt he wore in warmups, he made 15-of-25 shots and simply was unstoppable in the final period, torching a series of defenders.
"He hit shot after shot after shot," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. We kept going to him. He was hitting bank shots, spot-up jumpers and 3s. He really did look like Superman tonight."
"One of the greatest performances I've seen. Certainly his greatest performance, and that's saying a lot," Pacers guard Mark Jackson said.
The All-Star guard scored 18 of Indiana's 20 points during one stretch. His 3-pointer with 1:37 remaining gave Indiana a 93-92 lead but he lost the ball out of bounds on the next possession and Milwaukee forward Tim Thomas responded with a 20-footer with 50 seconds left.
Best had a terrible game, making just 3-of-15 shots. He missed a 3-pointer that went out of bounds off the Bucks. He missed another 3-pointer that was rebounded by the Pacers and Jalen Rose found him in the left corner, where he finally made a 3-pointer for a 96-94 lead.
"He drove and skipped over me to pass to Travis in the corner," Miller said. "I'm glad Travis hit the shot because I would have been at someone's throat."
"They rebounded the ball when they needed that last one," said Bucks coach George Karl, who fell to 11-5 in elimination games.
"Most of this series, we controlled the boards, but that last minute tonight hurt us."
Milwaukee had a chance to tie but Ervin Johnson split a pair of free throws with 6.2 seconds to go. It got one more chance after Jalen Rose missed two foul shots with 1.4 seconds left but Ray Allen's long 3-pointer was way off.
After being swept by Indiana in the opening round last season, Milwaukee came up a point short on two counts. The Bucks went the final 2 1/2 minutes without point guard Sam Cassell, who fouled out with 22 points and six assists.
"They definitely lose something with Cassell out of the game," Bird said. "Sam has a lot of playoff basketball under his belt.
He can get any shot he wants. I was glad to see him go out."
Rose scored 14 points for the Pacers, who face the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals beginning Saturday at home.
Indiana swept Philadelphia in the same round last year.
"For the sense of urgency and for the desperation this team was facing, hopefully it will be a motivating factor and a wake-up call," Miller said.
The Pacers have reached the conference finals four of the last six years but never had made the NBA Finals. A loss certainly would have led to a breakup of the nucleus, with Bird intending to step aside after the season and Miller, Rose and Jackson headed to free agency.
"I was doing this for myself," said Miller, a 12-year veteran.
"This might have been my last game."
Allen and Thomas scored 18 points apiece for the Bucks, who were trying to become just the third No. 8 seed to upset a top seed since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984. Milwaukee is the only team to win twice at Conseco Fieldhouse this season.
The Bucks won more playoff games this series than they won in the 1990s but still have not won a postseason series since 1989.
The Pacers improved to 20-0 in revenge games this season.
Miller's tough baseline shot gave Indiana an 89-87 lead with 5:01 to go, but Johnson made two free throws, Glenn Robinson sank one and Cassell hit a jumper for a 92-89 advantage with 3:08 left. On the next possession, Cassell was called for an offensive foul and became a cheerleader.
"I was really surprised," Cassell said. "I just wish they would have let us play it out."
Miller had a shot blocked but drew a very questionable foul from Johnson. He made 1-of-2, then added the 3-pointer 38 seconds later to give Indiana the lead.
"I guess I gave him just a little too much space and he just pulled up and drilled it," Thomas said.
The Bucks trailed 71-70 entering the fourth quarter but began with a 9-2 surge, taking a 79-73 lead on Darvin Ham's follow dunk with 9:11 remaining. On the next possession, Miller began his hot streak, which included two 3-pointers, a three-point play off a tough drive and a running bank shot.
Dale Davis had 10 points and 12 rebounds as Indiana shot 43 percent (36-of-83) and committed just nine turnovers.
Robinson, an All-Star and Indiana native, had a bad game with 11 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Milwaukee shot 44 percent (36-of-82) and had just seven turnovers.
Both teams came out looking for quick starts and Indiana opened a 21-16 lead on Miller's 3-pointer with 4:20 left in the first quarter. Milwaukee responded with a 10-2 run as Cassell had four points and two assists and opened a 30-25 lead.
Thomas opened the second quarter with consecutive jumpers and a 15-footer by Cassell gave the Bucks their largest lead at 38-28 with 9:21 remaining. Both teams endured a long cold spell and Milwaukee still held a 47-39 advantage with 2:15 to play before Indiana closed with seven straight points.
Best's first basket came on a three-point play that gave Indiana a 67-61 lead with 3:38 left in the third quarter. There were five ties and five lead changes in the period.