Work in Sports
INDIANAPOLIS (Ticker) -- It took Reggie Miller three games to finally stand up to the immense challenge of Shaquille O'Neal. He did it by showing him the importance of making his free throws.
Miller matched O'Neal with 33 points and got the better of the big guy down the stretch as the Indiana Pacers got back into the NBA Finals with a 100-91 Game Three victory over the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers.
"If we went down 3-0, we knew you could have pretty much written us off," said Miller, whose fire and jump shot returned just in time. After shooting 25 percent in the first two games, Miller made 11-of-22 shots.
"It always comes down to me; this is my team," Miller added.
"I've got to step up and I've got to do everything."
Where Miller really hurt the Lakers was at the foul line as he showed why there is no such strategy as "Hack-a-Reggie." The NBA's second-best foul shooter was 9-of-9, including 8-of-8 in the fourth quarter, when he was shut out from the field for the third game in a row.
"Anytime you're in a big series, you've got to take as many free points as possible," said Miller, who is 20-of-20 from the line in the Finals.
O'Neal really hurt the Lakers at the line as well. He made just 3-of-13 free throws, including 1-of-7 in the final period. He is 22-of-58 from the line in the series and apparently was upset with his performance as he left without talking to reporters.
O'Neal still had another big game with 33 points and 13 rebounds. But with Kobe Bryant sidelined by an ankle sprain and teammates providing very little early support, he was a one-man team for much of the game and often settled for turnaround jumpers.
"The strength of their double-teams was to run into him and knock him back off the post and make him turn out," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He had to retreat to get rid of the basketball."
"I think tonight we went to Shaq a lot," Lakers forward Robert Horry said. "In doing so, we made a lot of dumb errors, a lot of turnovers (17). That killed us."
The Pacers moved 6-10 forward Dale Davis onto the 7-1 O'Neal and he fouled out, but not before grabbing 12 rebounds and providing the strongest resistance Indiana has had in the low post.
"Dale is strong," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "Obviously he is not as strong as Shaq or as big. He'll battle you. He did a good job of standing behind him and forcing him out a little bit, which the task is almost impossible."
"It was tough," Davis said. "The guy gets great position and he gets the calls, too, so that helps him out. I thought we did a better job of at last trying to push him out."
While O'Neal was going it alone, Miller had some help from Jalen Rose and Travis Best. Rose scored 21 points and Best added 14 off the bench as he made the significant impact the Pacers have been waiting for.
"We're not a team that's going to be pushed around," said Rose, who made 9-of-18 shots. "We're not a team that's coming into the series like a JV team. We're coming here to win it."
"I just wanted to stay active and be a force out there any way I could," said Best, who hit 5-of-7 shots.
Bryant is expected to return for Game Four on Wednesday at Conseco Fieldhouse. He will be a welcome sight for the Lakers, who showed that they need him to win this series. Starters Glen Rice and Brian Shaw -- who replaced Bryant in the starting lineup -- combined for just 13 points.
Ron Harper scored 14 points and reserves Horry and Derek Fisher added 10 apiece for Los Angeles. Most of those came after the Pacers had jumped out to a big early lead, getting the sellout of crowd of 18,345 into it and nearly knocking the Lakers out of it.
"As a team, we made a conscious effort to get out to those guys," Best said. "We knew that with Kobe out, they were going to feel that much more confident putting up shots."
There was some chippiness as the series tightened a bit. Mark Jackson and Harper exchanged shoves and technicals in the first quarter and Austin Croshere flagrantly fouled Fisher on a drive in the second period. Davis and Rice had words in the third quarter and Jackson and Harper also got into it.
The Pacers never trailed, using runs of 11-2 in the first quarter, 10-3 in the second and a demoralizing 12-0 spurt in the third, when they led by as many as 18 points. But they couldn't deliver the knockout punch and the Lakers made a late charge.
A 3-pointer by Best gave Indiana an 89-81 lead with 4:55 to go before O'Neal hit a turnaround and was fouled. But he followed with his third missed free throw of the quarter.
Harper drove for a basket to make it 89-85 but Croshere dug out a loose ball and flipped in a layup with 2:26 left. A basket by O'Neal was countered by two free throws by Miller with 2:02 remaining, giving Indiana a 93-87 lead.
O'Neal drew a foul but missed both tries with 1:50 left. Mark Jackson split a pair before the Pacers intentionally fouled O'Neal, who finally hit 1-of-2 with 51 seconds to go. A 3-pointer by Harper cut the deficit in half but there were just 14 ticks left and the Lakers had to foul Miller.
Miller made the first and refused to acknowledge a hand from Rose. He hit the second to push the lead to five points and he and Rose each added a pair in the final seconds.
O'Neal outscored Miller 27-2 in the fourth quarter of the first two games but Miller had an 8-7 edge tonight.
"I didn't take enough shots in the fourth quarter in Game Two," Miller said. "Tonight a lot of the offense was funneled my way and guys got looks and I went to the free-throw line six or seven times."
"Reggie came through," Bird said. "We need that effort out of him the next game."
Croshere scored 12 points for the Pacers, who fell just short of Bird's desired figure of 47 percent (36-of-78). The Lakers shot 50 percent (38-of-76) but were outrebounded (39-33) for the first time in the series.
The beleaguered Rik Smits picked up three fouls in three minutes and the Pacers had their 53-42 halftime lead whittled to 57-52 on a hook by O'Neal with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter. A jumper by Miller triggered a 12-0 surge that included 3-pointers by Jackson and Sam Perkins.
Miller had a 20-footer and 3-pointer to give Indiana its largest lead at 76-58 with 2:14 left. The Pacers led 79-66 entering the final period.
The Pacers went to Plan C on O'Neal, putting Davis on him and continuing the aggressive double-teams. The Lakers were sloppy without Bryant and fell into a 23-12 hole with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
"They had good double-teams in the first quarter," Jackson said.
"They made him (O'Neal) get rid of the basketball."
O'Neal got untracked early in the second quarter with three straight hoops but Miller more than matched him by scoring Indiana's first seven points. Croshere came on and again was a factor, scoring the first six in a 10-2 surge that widened the lead to 42-27 with 4:25 to play.