Work in Sports
PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- Even with Reggie Miller tossed out, the Philadelphia 76ers nearly were swept out of the playoffs.
The 76ers avoided a monumental collapse and a second straight Eastern Conference semifinals sweep at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, scoring the last seven points of a wild 92-90 Game Four victory.
The 76ers appeared on their way to an easy win, holding an 18-point lead when Miller and Philadelphia center Matt Geiger were ejected after their second altercation late in the third quarter.
Instead, Indiana stormed back without its star and Philadelphia looked lost in its own building, falling behind 90-85 with just over three minutes to go.
Tyrone Hill's follow shot of Allen Iverson's fifth consecutive miss with 42 seconds remaining rescued the 76ers, who forced Game Five in Indiana on Monday. Miller and Geiger are expected to be suspended for that game.
"I haven't looked at the tape," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "They said that he pushed the guy, but Matt was trying to take him out both times. Reggie handled it very well the first time, the second time he goes in there and pushes the guy in the face and gets ejected."
"Reggie is a competitor and I respect Reggie for what he did," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "It was an unfortunate situation. I dont think Matt would ever hurt anybody (on purpose)."
Miller scored 16 points before his ejection and wasn't the only star knocked to the floor. Already nursing several injuries, Iverson suffered bruised ribs late in the second period and scored only five of his 19 points after halftime, shooting 7-of-26 overall.
"I struggled. As the game when on, my ribs started feeling worse and worse," Iverson said. "Everytime I tried to extend on my shot, I felt a pull. It was bothing me. Dealing with that and my elbow, that made it worse."
Pacers reserve guard Travis Best outscored Iverson 7-0 in the final period and had chances to tie and win it in the final seconds. But his 22-footer and 3-pointer both rattled in and out as Indiana lost to Philadelphia for the first time in eight playoff meetings over the last two years.
"We have another shot," Iverson said. "We live to see tomorrow, that's what it is all about -- taking it one game at a time, not giving up, playing the way we have been playing all year, with a lot of heart. It would be easy for us to have just folded, guys going on vacation and doing whatever they want. But we don't feel like we've finished working yet."
The Sixers withstood the initial surge by the Pacers and still led 85-80 after a free throw by George Lynch with 6:34 left. But Jalen Rose scored, Chris Mullin hit a 3-pointer and Best had a terrific drive and 3-pointer to give Indiana a 90-85 lead with 3:06 to go.
"Reggie gets out of the game and they had a lot of guys step up," Brown said. "They could have just packed it in and said, 'Hey, let's get Game Five at home. You have to admire the fact that they kept playing."
Aaron McKie, who scored 12 points, responded with a 3-pointer to trigger Philadelphia's closing surge. Theo Ratliff made a free throw with two minutes to go and Indiana missed on its next two possessions, setting up Hill's winning basket.
"It was one of those shots where Allen put it up and I went to the inside of the basket," Hill said. "I knew if he missed it, it was going to come back to me. Fortunately, I was there for the put-back."
Jalen Rose, who scored 10 of his 16 points after Miller was thrown out, missed a layup with 9.7 seconds to go. Toni Kukoc rebounded and was fouled but made just 1-of-2, giving Indiana another chance.
From the right wing, Best rose over Iverson but missed a jumper.
The rebounded was batted around and right back into the hands of Best, who stepped into a 3-pointer but missed from almost nearly the same spot in similar fashion as the horn sounded.
"I had the 'iso' in front of their bench," Best said. "I just went up and took the shot. I felt like Allen was off of me, like he was looking for me to drive. My jumper was feeling good and I let it go. It felt good, it looked good and it rimmed in and out. Derrick (McKey) hustled for the ball and the ball came to me. I knew there wasn't too much time on the clock, I didn't have time to look so I just put it up. It felt really good, and it just rimmed out."
"It really would have been nice to have (Miller) going down the stretch, when we finally started playing some defense and were a little more aggressive than we were in the first half," Bird said.
Hill was a hero with 18 points and 15 rebounds as Philadelphia held a 53-37 edge on the glass to overcome 38.5 percent shooting (30-of-75) and 14 missed free throws (29-of-43).
"Tyrone was phenomenal," Brown said. "He willed us to win."
Ratliff collected 12 points and nine rebounds and Geiger scored 10 points for Philadelphia, which got contributions from players previously dormant in this series. Kukoc scored a series-high 11 points and rookie center Todd MacCulloch had a nice stretch at the end of the first half.
Rik Smits scored 20 points and Best added 11 for Indiana, which shot 39 percent (31-of-80) but made only 7-of-25 3-pointers. The Pacers were outscored 22-5 on the fast break, 15-7 on the offensive glass and 36-28 in the paint.
"When you rely on the 3-pointer, some days it hurts you," Bird said. "We had to take the shots that were available to us. We had point-blank 3-pointers, we just didn't make any of them."
McKie hit a 3-pointer and layup to give the Sixers a 12-7 lead and trigger a 16-4 run. Iverson also had five points, including a steal and breakaway dunk that capped it at 23-11 with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
Philadelphia led 33-18 after one period, shooting 52 percent (13-of-25) and holding Indiana to 32 percent (6-of-19). The Sixers still held a 45-30 advantage when Geiger clobbered Miller on a drive, drawing a flagrant foul.
"We talked about taking hard fouls, pro fouls, not giving up layups, playing playoff-type basketball," Brown said. "I know Matt isn't that kind of guy who's trying to hurt anybody. I hope they understand that. It's unfortunate how it happened."
That awoke Miller, who scored six points over the next minute as Indiana cut the deficit to eight. However, MacCulloch came on and had four points and four rebounds as Philadelphia rebuilt the lead to 58-47 at halftime.
With 52 seconds left, Iverson floated into the lane, collided with Dale Davis and went down. He stayed there for a minute or so before heading to the locker room holding his right ribs.
A three-point play by Ratliff gave Philadelphia its largest lead at 75-56 with three minutes left in the third quarter. Less than two minutes later, Geiger again floored Miller and this time Miller came up swinging. He shoved Geiger in the face and both players were ejected.
"We can't have that in the playoffs," Bird said. "We have to play basketball and stay together. We weren't focused today to play, we werent ready to play."
Without their best player, the Pacers fought back, scoring the next 15 points. They closed the quarter with 10 points in 72 seconds and a 3-pointer by Rose made it 79-76 with 9:50 left.
"When something like that happens, we pick up the intensity," Bird said. "When Matt hit Reggie the first time, we scored like five in a row. Our intensity picked up a second time."