76ers can't rebound on own court, 97-86

Miller's 29 pace Indy, 1 game from East finals

May 22, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA -- They finished the regular season tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference, yet they were viewed as underachievers. That's because more was expected of an Indiana Pacers team that extended the Chicago Bulls to seven games in last year's Eastern Conference finals.

Well, the Pacers last night moved one step closer to reaching the conference finals for the second year in the row with a 97-86 win over the Philadelphia 76ers before a sellout crowd at the First Union Center. The Pacers took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinal series, with Game 4 to be played here tomorrow.

Accustomed to playing high-stakes games in hostile arenas, the Pacers won with a balanced offensive attack led by guard Reggie Miller, who scored 29 points on efficient, 9-for-14 shooting.

The Sixers were also balanced, as five players scored in double figures. But while shooting guard Allen Iverson led his team with 32 points, he shot just 13-for-33 from the field for his second poor shooting game in a row. He's shooting 35 percent (21-for-60) in the past two games.

Now the Sixers face the challenge of becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

"Nobody ever came back from 3-0 -- we might as well try to be the first one to get it done," said Sixers coach Larry Brown. "I don't like the way the game ended, with us hanging our heads. I want them to go out and play their best game in Game 4 and see what happens."

What will have to happen for the youthful Sixers to extend the series is to convert on fast-break opportunities. Last night, the older, more experienced Pacers outran the 76ers by a lopsided 19-3 advantage.

Indiana point guard Mark Jackson dictated the game's tempo, getting 11 points and 10 assists in 34 minutes.

"We played the way we're supposed to play," Jackson said. "They're a team with a lot of life, and we have to put them away any chance we can."

And the Sixers will need to get a better rebounding effort, particularly from 7-foot-1 center Matt Geiger who had zero rebounds in 27 minutes.

Also hurting the Sixers was their shooting inaccuracy, as the team's 37.5 percent shooting marked a low for this series.

Philadelphia shot 29.1 percent in the fourth quarter, and during one stretch of nearly six minutes, the team missed nine straight field-goal attempts. Iverson hit just two of eight shots in the fourth quarter.

"I got caught up in the game," Iverson said. "Now it's important for us to understand we have to win one game at a time. We can't have to look at it like we have to win two or three in a row."

While Iverson struggled, it was just another day of being the most hated player in the building for Miller, who was serenaded by the Philadelphia fans before and during the game. Miller's response: 13 points in the opening quarter.

"I love it, I love it," Miller said. "I can play at home. But I play much better on the road."

Miller provided 17 first-half points to help the Pacers to a 49-41 halftime lead. In the third quarter, it was Chris Mullin who provided a lift after the Sixers pulled within a point and center Rik Smits was forced to the bench after picking up his fourth foul.

During a stretch of just over 3 1/2 minutes, Mullin hit four straight shots, the last one with 4: 57 left, increasing Indiana's lead to 66-55. Mullin finished with 15 points.

That run helped the Pacers to a franchise-record sixth straight postseason victory, putting the team on the verge of a second straight series sweep.

"We're very fortunate to be where we're at right now," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "We're in excellent position now. But they're young and energetic, and they're going to play. We're going to have to be ready for them."

NOTES: Since Sixers president Pat Croce shaved his head before the postseason, the club has provided free head shaves at home games. Last night, 202 people took advantage of the free cuts. The Pacers broke Philadelphia's 10-game home winning streak dating to the regular season. Iverson was 15 shots short of the NBA playoff record for field-goal attempts (48) held by Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry.

Indiana 28 21 26 22 -- 97

Philadelphia 22 19 25 20 -- 86

INDIANA -- Mullin 5-10 2-2 15, D.Davis 4-7 2-6 10, Smits 2-4 0-0 4, Miller 9-14 7-7 29, Jackson 5-10 0-0 11, A.Davis 3-6 0-1 6, Best 2-4 2-2 6, Rose 5-11 0-1 10, Perkins 0-5 0-0 0, McKey 3-5 0-0 6. Totals 38-76 13-19 97.

PHILADELPHIA -- Hughes 3-11 5-6 11, Ratliff 4-8 2-4 10, Geiger 5-11 1-2 11, Iverson 13-33 4-7 32, Snow 6-11 3-3 16, Hill 0-5 0-2 0, Lynch 1-6 2-4 4, McKie 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 33-88 17-28 86.

3-point goals--Indiana 8-24 (Miller 4-6, Mullin 3-8, Jackson 1-4, Rose 0-1, Perkins 0-5), Philadelphia 3-15 (Iverson 2-10, Snow 1-3, Hughes 0-1, Lynch 0-1). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Indiana 56 (D.Davis 11), Philadelphia 54 (Hill 12). Assists--Indiana 26 (Jackson 10), Philadelphia 19 (Snow 9). Total fouls--Indiana 24, Philadelphia 20. A--20,930 (20,444).

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