Pacers square series, 90-78

With Miller still off, reserves step up to bring down Knicks

Rose has 19 off bench

Sprewell as starter backfires on N.Y.

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

NEW YORK -- For a player who has enjoyed many memorable moments at Madison Square Garden, Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller appeared reluctant to pull the trigger in his team's Game 3 loss to the New York Knicks.

So coming off a game when he attempted just nine shots, Miller vowed he'd come out for last night's Game 4 shooting.

Well, that scenario never materialized as Miller played a scoreless first half, missing all three of his attempts. But his teammates survived his slow start as the Pacers defeated the New York Knicks, 90-78, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

With the win, the Pacers evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. More importantly, they regained the home-court advantage that they'd given up in the series-opening defeat to New York at Market Square Arena.

Indiana gets a chance to go up in this series for the first time tomorrow when it returns to its home court.

For a player who has thrived on clutch situations throughout his career, Miller was a mere spectator in the crucial moments of Games 1 and 3, when the Pacers needed a big shot in the closing seconds. On both occasions, the last shot was taken -- and missed -- by Indiana point guard Mark Jackson.

In fact, Miller attempted a total of just five shots in the final four minutes of the three games going into last night, missing all five. That he seemed reluctant to take over left coach Larry Bird perplexed.

"With two minutes left to go [in Game 3], I was sitting there wondering, `When is he going to go and get the ball in his hands,' " Bird said during Sunday's off-day practice. "And that's where we want it, in his hands, because we know they're not going to foul him and we know he can make that play for us."

It was not the start the Pacers had hoped for. Starting center Rik Smits picked up his second foul less than a minute into the game and wound up playing just 30 seconds in the first half. Reggie Miller also picked up two fouls early, leaving Indiana's top two playoff scorers without any points in the first half.

Fortunately for the Pacers, reserves Antonio Davis (12 first-half points) and Jalen Rose (10 points) picked up the scoring slack in the first half. And as the Knicks suffered through a poorly played half on the offensive end (new starter Latrell Sprewell missed eight of 11 shots), the Pacers took a 45-32 halftime lead.

By inserting Sprewell in the starting lineup, the Knicks were hoping to get an offensive lift early. But, instead, Sprewell struggled to find his shooting touch as he hit just two of his first five shots, and he was forced to the bench after he picked up his second foul midway through the first quarter.

For the Pacers, it was Chris Mullin who provided the offensive spark early, with Smits and Miller both on the bench. Mullin scored six points in the opening period and the Pacers -- after Rose hit a jumper with just over a second left -- had a 23-20 lead at the end of one quarter.

As the Knicks had difficulty with their scoring and taking care of the ball, the Pacers were able to boost their lead to nine points less than four minutes into the second quarter after a free throw by Sam Perkins made it 33-24.

Miller finally re-entered the game midway through the second quarter, but he missed his one shot the rest of the half as his tentative offensive play continued.

Fortunately for the Pacers, Davis -- who committed the foul on Larry Johnson's three-pointer that led to New York's Game 3 win -- scored six of his 12 first-half points over the final 2: 48. It was a layup by Davis with 29 seconds left that gave the Pacers the 45-32 lead.

Miller finally got on the scoring board in the third quarter when he hit a three-pointer midway through the period, his first field goal in 47 minutes. He would score five points in the quarter, later connecting on two free throws after he was fouled by Johnson on a three-point attempt.

So desperate was Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy for offense that he played his two point guards, Charlie Ward and Chris Childs, over the latter part of the third quarter and benched Sprewell. But the Pacers would take a 66-57 lead into the fourth quarter behind the hot shooting of Mullin, who had 18 points through three periods.

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