Work in Sports
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- The last time the Indiana Pacers were this close to the NBA Finals, Travis Best also was at the controls.
Best was part of a huge second-quarter surge and scored 15 of his playoff career-high 24 points in the fourth period as the Pacers defeated the New York Knicks, 88-79, in Game Five of the Eastern Conference finals.
Best, a 5-11 reserve guard who splits the point guard duties with Mark Jackson, made 7-of-11 shots, grabbed six rebounds and did not commit a turnover as he directed Indiana's victory. After playing poorly in the first three games of the series, he has emerged as a major factor in the last two.
"I have a lot of pride and so does Mark," Best said. "The comments that were made, whether they were true or not, we took them kind of personally, becuase throughout the year we have been able to outplay most of the guards we have faced. ... I think we took it personal."
"(He's) just a great offensive weapon when he gets it going," said Jackson, who had 11 points, seven assists and no turnovers. "He makes everybody around him better, because he's a guy you really have to double. You have to give him your undivided attention. He really got it going, did a phenomenal job."
The Pacers erased an 18-point first-half deficit by holding the Knicks to a playoff franchise record-low eight points in the second period. Best was one of four Pacers to hit 3-pointers in a 23-3 run over the final 10 minutes of the quarter.
"He gives us a different dimension that we don't have," Pacers forward Jalen Rose said. "He also is a great defender and a guy that can get us easy baskets."
Indiana extended its lead in the third quarter as New York's shooting woes continued. Best made sure the Knicks did not come back with a variety of jumpers, drives and free throws in the final period.
"Travis comes in and he's a speed guy," Knicks guard Charlie Ward said. "He can also shoot, which poses a big threat."
For the fourth time in their history, the Pacers are within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals. The last time they were this close, Best put them there as well.
In 1998, Best outdueled Michael Jordan in the final minute with a running bank shot and two free throws, giving Indiana a 92-89 victory over Chicago and forcing Game Seven of the conference finals.
The Pacers lost that game but will have two chances this time, beginning with Game Six on Friday in New York. The home team has yet to lose in this series.
"It's a great feeling to be one game away from going to the championship," Best said. "We're in a good position right now and we just want to take advantage of it. We want to go to New York and try to close the series out."
"It's up to them," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "They have an opportunity that a lot of players never have. If they want to give the effort, the series will be theirs. I'm confident we will play well in New York. This team knows what to do."
Center Patrick Ewing returned and the Knicks lost, which has been the story against the Pacers in the last two postseasons. Against Indiana, New York is 5-1 without Ewing and 1-4 with him.
After missing Games Three and Four with a sprained right foot, Ewing had 13 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. He made an impact early, when the Knicks opened their lead.
"No one said anything when we were up 32-17 in the first quarter," Ward said. "Actually, he's the one that gave us the big lead."
Rose scored 18 points and Reggie Miller added 16 for the Pacers, who shot just 37 percent (29-of-79) but committed just seven turnovers. Jackson added 11 points and seven assists without a turnover.
Allan Houston scored 25 points for the Knicks, who sank 12 shots in the first quarter but just 18 thereafter. They actually shot better than the Pacers but were done in Indiana's 10 3-pointers and 21 second-chance points.
Houston opened the fourth quarter with two free throws to cut the deficit to 63-57 but that was as close as the Knicks would get. Best answered with two free throws and was there every time New York made a push.
Chris Childs's 3-pointer made it 69-62 and Best hit a transition jumper with 7:13 left. Houston sank a jumper to make it 74-68 and Best drove for a hoop with 4:27 remaining.
"He was a different player," said Childs, who helped contain Best through the first three games. "He moved the ball around the perimeter and really made some key plays down the stretch.
He really stepped up his game."
After Houston hit another jumper, Sam Perkins and Best buried 3-pointers around a free throw by Ward for an 82-71 advantage with 2:36 to play. Kurt Thomas banked in a jumper but Best responded with a jumper with 1:46 left and added three free throws down the stretch.
Rose hit three 3-pointers and Best, Miller and Perkins added two apiece. Little-used Derrick McKey had four of his nine boards on the offensive end. Indiana rebounded 13 of its own misses.
Ward continued his stellar play with 11 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and Latrell Sprewell added 10 points on just 4-of-14 shooting for New York.
The Knicks came out hotter than they did in Game Four, making their first eight shots and bolting to a 22-11 lead. Ewing scored nine points in the first quarter, which ended with New York shooting 63 percent (12-of-19) and holding a 32-15 lead.
Game Five is always referred to as pivotal and you could clearly see where this one pivoted. A 3-pointer by Houston widened the lead to 37-19 with 10:42 left in the second quarter and he had another open look from the arc just 30 seconds later. But he missed, beginning a stretch where the Knicks misfired on 14 of 15 shots.
Indiana did not shoot well but ran down its misses. The Pacers closed the half with a 23-3 run, scoring 15 points on 3-pointers or after offensive rebounds. Miller, Rose, Best and Sam Perkins all struck from behind the arc.
"I thought we got a lot of production off our bench," Best said.
"We focused on getting stops to get us back into the game."
"We let things that happened on the offensive end affect our defensive intensity," Childs said. "A big part of it was them getting a number of second and third chances from the offensive boards. When you give them opportunity after opportunity it's tough to keep making stop after stop."
In grabbing a 42-40 halftime lead, Indiana shot just 25 percent (8-of-32) from inside the arc but 50 percent (7-of-14) outside it.
New York shot 12.5 percent (2-of-16) as it suffered through its worst second quarter in 345 all-time playoff games and the second-worst in NBA history. Utah scored just seven at Seattle on May 3.
The slump continued in the third quarter. After fighting back to a 45-45 tie, the Knicks allowed the Pacers to rattle off nine straight points, including a pair of jumpers by Jackson. He had two free throws and a hook shot before a free throw by Davis gave Indiana their largest lead at 63-51 with 2:39 remaining.