Pacers square series, 90-78

With Miller still off, Rose, Mullin step up to bring down Knicks

`We know what it takes'

Sprewell as starter backfires on N.Y.

June 08, 1999|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- After attempting just nine shots in the Indiana Pacers' Game 3 loss, Reggie Miller vowed to be more aggressive last night. But on a night on which Miller again looked ordinary, it was the play of two other struggling players that provided the offensive boost.

Jalen Rose rebounded from a postseason scoring low of two points to contribute 19 off the bench, while starting small forward Chris Mullin added 18 as the Pacers defeated the New York Knicks, 90-78, to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series at 2-2.

In splitting the two games in New York, the Pacers regained the home-court advantage that the team lost in dropping the series opener at Market Square Arena. Indiana, with two of the final three games of the series to be played at home, gets its first opportunity to take the advantage in the series in Game 5 tomorrow night in Indianapolis.

"We've been here before, and we know what it takes to win," said Rose, about regaining the home-court advantage. "We're going back to Indiana, and we have the best sixth man in the country."

The Pacers could have easily been a deflated team last night, especially with the way they lost on Larry Johnson's four-point play in the closing seconds of Game 3. Instead, the Knicks were the team that came out flat, failing to take advantage of a tactical move in which Latrell Sprewell replaced Kurt Thomas in the starting lineup.

New York coach Jeff Van Gundy's intent was to put more scoring punch on the floor at the top of the game. But Sprewell wound up struggling at both ends of the court.

On offense, Sprewell hit six of 14 shots, finishing with 12 points. On defense, he had a hard time finding Mullin -- leading to the 35-year-old forward getting off to a hot start.

"They crushed us," a disappointed Van Gundy said after the game. "We're right back to where we were with this team in the regular season. If we think we're going to win a series against this team by giving up 50 percent shooting, we're mistaken."

The Pacers did, indeed, shoot 50 percent from the field last night, after hitting a combined 44.2 percent in the first three games of the series. Last night's feat was accomplished without strong outings from Indiana's two top scorers, Rik Smits and Miller.

Smits picked up two fouls in the only 30 seconds of the first half he played, and scored just four points in 13 minutes for the game. Miller took just 10 shots in the game, finishing with 12 points. Both got into early foul trouble, and neither scored in the first half.

"It was very disheartening to watch both of them sit in foul trouble," Pacers coach Larry Bird said. "We went a little bit longer with Reggie [playing with two fouls]. We took a gamble leaving him in there. This was a big game. We had to have this game."

And they got the game because Mullin provided the scoring when the Pacers desperately needed it. With Indiana running more of a motion offense, Mullin got good looks at the basket in the first quarter, when he hit three of six shots and scored six points. Sprewell also picked up two early fouls while chasing the slow-of-foot Mullin.

"We had more motion, and that always helps your energy," Mullin said of his team's early style. "When you wait for something to happen [on offense], it feeds into being flat-footed and not aggressive."

Rose also scored six points in the first quarter off the bench, helping the Pacers to a 23-20 lead. By halftime, Rose had 10 points, Antonio Davis 12 and Mullin eight to help Indiana to a 45-32 lead.

From there, the Pacers never looked back, even though the Knicks got as close as seven points in the fourth quarter. Other than Marcus Camby getting 18 points and 14 rebounds off the bench, New York struggled.

Sprewell, Allan Houston and the Game 3 hero, Johnson, shot a combined 16-for-45 from the field.

"The whole game, it was like we were stuck in mud," said Sprewell, who is shooting 38 percent from the field this series after being New York's top player in the first two rounds.

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