INDIANAPOLIS -- The signs of satisfaction were everywhere. There was a permanence to the good vibes, something that would survive the taunts, the threes, the general chaos that made this series as hard it was.
Kevin Gamble, who made the basket to save his team from imminent implosion, recorded the feeling at the end with an authoritative spike. The Boston Celtics had won another one they easily could have lost and the Indiana Pacers had quickly gone from main concern to afterthought.
"It feels good. And rewarding," Gamble said after the Celtics wrapped up this first-round series with a 102-98 victory last night, ousting Indiana in the minimum three games. "They talk so much. It was really nice to see everything go so quiet there at the end and knowing that we don't have to see them until next year."
It was neither easy, aesthetic nor convincing. None of the three games was. The Celtics blew an 18-point lead in less than eight minutes in the third quarter. They went 3 1/2 minutes down the stretch without a field goal and missed an astonishing 11 free throws in the quarter, including five by John Bagley in the last 41 seconds. But they had just enough defense, and the Pacers cooperated with another horrific fourth quarter (35 percent).
"A lot of things could have gone wrong, did go wrong," Boston coach Chris Ford said. "But we found a way to win. That's the sign of a good team. It wasn't pretty. But it was a win."
For much of the game, it looked as though the Celtics had arrived with their "Merchant of Death" mentality, the killer instinct there at the outset in the person of Reggie Lewis. He was unstoppable, scoring 19 in the first quarter (including one three-pointer) and 28 in the first half. The Celtics led by seven after one and by 10 at the half, the first time in the series they led going into the locker room. Things looked promising.
But then the inevitable run came. Ford said he expected it. It started on the most improbable of plays -- Dale Davis hitting a short bank shot off an inbounds pass with one second left on the 24-second clock. Then Detlef Schrempf (23 points, 12 rebounds) got rolling and the lead dwindled incrementally. Reggie Miller (32 points) and Chuck Person (12) each made three-point shots and soon it was a 74-74 game after a Vern Fleming jumper. Boston led, 78-76, after three.