Still, while his shots revived the non-cheering Pacer fans, they failed to decisively rattle the Nets. In the closing 18 minutes of the game the score was tied or the lead changed hands 21 times. In fact, New York seemed to have salvaged the game when Barry made two free throws with 27 seconds left to give the Nets a four-point lead. Then Keller and Lewis went to work. Billy headed for his favorite three-point spot and, although closely guarded by Taylor, swished a jumper. Still, all New York had to do to preserve a one-point win was hold the ball until the end of the game. Lewis solved that problem with a clean steal from Taylor as the Nets attempted to bring the ball upcourt. He drove in for a layup, was fouled and made two free throws to give Indiana a 100-99 win.
Lewis, a member of the Pacers since the founding of the ABA, has been Indy's only captain and has appeared in all but a handful of Pacer games. He played one year in the NBA but joined the new league because he felt there would be better job security there for a small man. In his own mind, that security has never materialized. "I have had to come to training camp every year with the attitude that I'm trying to make the team, that I'm trying to win a job," he says.
Lewis is short and he is not extraordinarily fast. Nor is he a pinpoint outside shooter. But compared to some of his teammates, he is a marvel of consistency and he has learned to do little things very well—among them shooting foul shots and making steals when they are imperative.
"I've had trouble matching up our guards against other teams," says Leonard. "Rick's not a particularly good defensive player and Freddie and Billy are small. Lots of people thought I was criticizing them as players, but I was just concerned about their size. It was a misunderstanding."
There have been plenty of misunderstandings on the Pacers this year and even while he was gulping champagne in the locker room after the title-clinching victory, one player said, "I intend to be right back here doing this again next year, but it sure ain't gonna be with this team." Mount and Netolicky are almost certain to be traded, and others may go with them. It is indeed unusual for a team with a pronounced undercurrent of discontent to win a championship, a factor that might explain why the Pacers, who won their last title only two years ago, celebrated their victory with a far greater display of champagne-squirting enthusiasm than even recent first-time winners like the Los Angeles Lakers or Milwaukee Bucks.
"Winning sure solves a lot of problems," said Indiana Assistant General Manager Bill Orwig during the bubbly blitz. It also helps to clear up a few enigmas as well.