Work in Sports
PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- Reggie Miller got his foot out of his mouth and used it to step on the resilient hearts of Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Miller returned from his one-game suspension and scored 25 points, backing up some of his boasts from earlier in the series and leading the Indiana Pacers into the Eastern Conference finals with a 106-90 victory over the 76ers.
Miller was suspended one game for his Game Four shove of Philadelphia center Matt Geiger, who was banned for two contests after two flagrant fouls against the All-Star guard. He claimed the Sixers' 92-90 victory that night would be their only one in the series but had to watch his teammates get crushed, 107-86, at home on Monday.
Tonight, the 6-7 sharpshooter was chomping at the bit and let loose with 13 first-quarter points to give the Pacers a 35-23 advantage after 12 minutes.
"Sometimes, when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself," Miller said. "After watching Game Five, I was upset with myself. I put myself in position to miss that game.
I had a whole week to simmer and think about it and it was getting me upset. I took the attitude I was going to do something about it."
But as it has done all season, Philadelphia fought back into contention, holding Miller scoreless while closing within 56-53 at halftime.
Miller came right back with nine points in the third quarter as the Pacers again took control, outscoring the Sixers, 29-16, and opening an 85-69 bulge entering the final period. Philadelphia did not seriously challenge thereafter and suffered its second straight conference semifinal ousting at the hands of Indiana.
"That third quarter was probably the best clinic we've put on defensively because we limited them to one shot and got out and got some easy ones," Miller said. "The last two days of practice we were really moving the basketball well in our half-court sets. We went through seven to 10 sets and constantly pounded and pounded, moving the basketball and hitting the open man. And thats what we did."
Iverson scored 18 points on 7-of-20 shooting and was inconsolable on the bench after leaving late in the fourth quarter. The Sixers were trying to become the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit and the third to force a seventh game in that scenario.
"Nothing is ever guaranteed in a Game Seven, no matter if you're at home or on the road," Miller said. "Really, the pressure is on you if you are the home team. And being down 3-0 and letting them tie it up, it would have felt like we had the weight of the world on our shoulders. Fortunately we played hard enough to get the victory tonight."
"We're getting close. We're getting better. We have to make some changes, subtle changes, we're close," Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said. "I saw great improvement with a lot of our players. If Eric (Snow) was healthy, and (Matt) Geiger was there, we might have given a better account of ourselves. We still have to get better to be with the elite teams."
Miller received plenty of help in silencing the raucous crowd at the First Union Center. Jalen Rose, who called the rest of the series a "formality" after Game Three, scored 21 points and Rik Smits had his best game of the playoffs with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with nine rebounds.
"This is playoff basketball," Indiana coach Larry Bird said.
"You're supposed to come to play every night. It was unfortunate the incident happened. I felt that in Game Five back home we would have had a great opportunity to win the game.
When we miss Reggie in the playoffs it really hurts us. I'm sure he'll say he was focused. He had an excellent game, but it was a team effort tonight."
Mark Jackson had 12 points and 11 assists for the Pacers, who advanced to the conference finals for the fifth time in seven seasons. Indiana awaits the winner of the series between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks.
Iverson brought the sellout crowd to its feet by draining the game's opening shot on a 17-footer from the left corner. But Miller and Rose responded with back-to-back jumpers, setting the tone early.
Miller's first-quarter assault continued with a 27-footer, a dunk, a running jumper, a 15-footer and another runner before Derrick McKey redirected his 3-pointer into the basket at the buzzer to give Indiana a 12-point bulge.
"Playoff time is when I'm at my best," Miller said. "I'm the most focused. You can concentrate in on one team. You get days off. You can rest your body. I get to watch a lot of tape. To not be a part of that, especially when we were up 3-1, and we could have came back and closed it at home, it kept bothering and messing with me. The more I thought about it the more upset I got. I wanted to do something about it."
Austin Croshere opened the second period with a dunk to open a 39-25 cushion before the Sixers made a run.
George Lynch made two free throws, Aaron McKie added four more and Iverson hit a runner as Philadelphia pulled within 40-33.
Rose answered with a layup before McKie hit a four-footer, Toni Kukoc a layup and Iverson two free throws.
McKie, who finished 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists, made a layup as Philadelphia cut it to 42-41 with 6:22 left in the first half, forcing Indiana to call a timeout and sending the crowd of 20,969 into a frenzy.
Rose hit a 3-pointer coming out of the stoppage in play, but Tyrone Hill and Kukoc made back-to-back layups, forging a 45-45 tie 4:28 before halftime.
After a layup by Hill got the Sixers within 58-57, Miller made two free throws, Jackson hit a short hook and Smits a follow shot to open a seven-point lead with 7:53 remaining in the third period.
Iverson drained a 27-footer and Smits answered with a 10-footer.
Iverson made a driving layup and Smits again responded, this time with a 12-footer from the right side.
Hill's free throw drew Philadelphia within 68-63, but Dale Davis dunked on consecutive trips and Miller's layup stretched the margin to 11 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
Miller helped put the Sixers away when he hit a 10-footer from the right side, blocked Iverson's shot on the defensive end and capped off the ensuing trip by burying a 26-footer with 31 seconds left in the quarter to make it 83-69.
"Reggie has been playing like this in the playoffs for years and years," Iverson said. "He's been here before. This is my second playoffs. For a lot of guys on my team, this was their first. When you add Jalen to the mix, you can't get any better than that. He's the 'go-to guy.' Reggie's been there before but Jalen is the guy that makes everything happen on that team."
Philadelphia fans let Miller have it with a steady diet of derisive chants, but the unflappable shooting guard is used to the abuse and even hinted that he thrives on it.
"I thought they were saying 'Reggie Rocks'," Miller joked.
"That's what they were saying? This is the best atmosphere for me. When you go into an environment like this or New York or whatever and you have 20-25-thousand people that all day have been drinking, all day have been making signs, all day have been cursing your name front and backwards to come here and taunt you, that is the best for me. I already got 'em, if it took all day for them to do that, I already have them."
Iverson played valiantly in the series despite an assortment of injuries, including a chip fracture of the right ankle. But he left the game with 2:36 to play and was overwrought with emotion on the bench, crying noticeably as the final minutes of his season wound down.
"I'm a competitor. I see the clock going down on my season. I'm out of the game, so obviously the game is over," Iverson said.
"I just saw my whole season pass by like that. In the snap of a finger it's over, four quarters and the whole thing is over. It just hurt because you always start to think about what you could have done to get your team over the hump. I don't think about what a guy on my team could have done better or if this guy could have given us more, I just felt I should have done more.
That's the thing that hurts the most."
Injured Philadelphia point guard Eric Snow (ankle) tried to play for the first time since the opening round, but was limited to six minutes and did not score in the first half before sitting down for the remainder of the contest.
Lynch scored 14 points, Kukoc 12 and Hill and Theo Ratliff added 11 apiece for the Sixers, who shot 39 percent (34-of-87) and lost the battle on the boards, 46-41.
Davis had nine points and 11 boards for Indiana, which shot 51 percent (39-of-76).