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In the ABA the champagne was Henri Marchant pink, and moments after the Indiana Pacers had won their third title, George McGinnis was swigging it and having the time of his young life. "Man, I'm just a kid," the massive 6'8" forward said. "Only 22 and I've already got two championships. Now that's somethin', ain't it?"
Ain't it, indeed. Although the Pacers' seven-game victory over the Kentucky Colonels was due mainly to aggressive defense and powerful rebounding, McGinnis was the young man—in normal circumstances, he would be graduating from Indiana University this spring—who made the big plays in this alley fight of a playoff. In the fifth game at Louisville he intercepted a pass with 25 seconds to go and made a dunk to provide the winning points in the Pacers' 89-86 victory. Then, after the Colonels tied the series with a 109-93 win in Indianapolis, McGinnis came back to Louisville's Freedom Hall and burned the Colonels with 27 points as Indiana took the final 88-81.
Save for the last half of the last game it was an exciting, ably played finals, heightened by the old rivalry between two states and cities both claiming to be the basketball capital of the Midwest. Only 115 miles of Interstate 65 separate Louisville and Indianapolis, and the teams were closer than that in ability.
Going into the fifth game Tuesday night, the series was tied at two wins apiece. To offset the presence of Artis Gilmore and Dan Issel beneath the basket, Indiana Coach Bob Leonard had replaced Forward Roger Brown with the taller, springier Darnell Hillman.
The strategy paid off as the Pacers whipped Kentucky badly on the boards, forced the Colonels out of their offense and got Gilmore in foul trouble. When the 7'2" center fouled out with 1:30 to play, the Colonels led by only five, 85-80. Quickly the Pacers cut it to 86-82, and then Freddie Lewis, who had a 28-point second half, hit a three-pointer to cut it to one. The Pacers got the ball back but McGinnis fumbled away a pass that should have led to the go-ahead bucket. Seconds later he atoned with his key interception and dunk that put the Pacers in front 87-86 with 0:25 left.
In the wild closing moments Kentucky Guard Jimmy O'Brien put up a jumper and a hook. But the Pacers' big men forced him to rush his shots and neither went in. A pair of free throws by Lewis with two seconds remaining gave Indiana the game and a chance to make its rather unimaginative motto—"Three in '73"—a reality on its home floor.
But on Thursday night in the dark, smoky field house at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, it was Kentucky's turn to make a mockery of the home-court advantage. With Gilmore establishing his shot-blocking and rebounding superiority early on, and with Louie Dampier hitting, the Colonels led all the way.
Only in the third quarter did the Pacers make a run, closing to within 80-76—a surge that turned the old field house into a maelstrom of dancing cheerleaders, sweeping spotlights and airhorn-blowing spectators. But Kentucky scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter, held Indiana without a field goal for more than six minutes, and began preparing for a victory celebration Saturday in Louisville.
"We've got it now," said Walt Simon, who spent much of the series vainly attempting to cope with the bigger, quicker McGinnis. "No team in the league can beat us in a one-game series."
The first half of the one-game series was low on scoring and style and heavy on hand-in-the-gut, elbow-in-the-ribs defense, and at intermission the Pacers led 42-41. But then a strange thing happened. In the third quarter Kentucky's shots wouldn't drop, and Indiana was there to get every rebound and stick it in the other end. Kentucky hit only three of 22 for the period and scored but 11 points, an ABA playoff low for one quarter. Given that sort of chance, the Pacers, with McGinnis whirling and muscling for 11 points in a game-turning stretch in which they outscored Kentucky 14-1, blew out to a 66-52 lead. And that was it for Kentucky. As McGinnis bluntly put it, "They just quit. They gave up."