Reggie Miller scored 34 points and the Indiana Pacers advanced to the National Basketball Association for the first time in club history by defeating New York 93-80 here Friday.
The win gave Indiana a 4-2 triumph in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final and a berth against Portland or the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA final starting Wednesday. Indiana was 1-1 against the Lakers and beat Portland twice.
"We did a horrible job in the third quarter," Miller said. "The offense was stagnant and I told Larry to run the offense through me. I had to have my hands on the basketball. Teammates were telling me to keep shooting."
After keeping the Pacers afloat with eight of his team's 12 points in the third quarter, Miller took charge in the final period. He scored 17 points, with the first nine coming on a trio of 3-pointers from the right wing.
"I haven't seen a competitor as tough as Reggie, next to Michael Jordan," Indiana guard Travis Best said. "In the locker room, on the court, he is intense. The guy wants to win."
Making the finals completes a career-long quest for Miller, who has played all 13 of his NBA seasons for the Pacers. Indiana lost four prior semi-final trips, including last year to the same Knicks who were conquered this time.
"This is special," Miller said. "We have always fought and we have gotten to the conference finals and we have always lost -- against New York twice and Chicago and Orlando. We had to exorcise some demons."
And now, Miller said, agonizing memories of the past are forgotten.
"We finally get to move on so I would have to say, yeah, they are," Miller said. "This is so sweet because everyone chipped in and played well. My God. This is great."
Indiana forward Dale Davis said he looked in Miller's eyes and saw a man who looked ready to lead troops into danger.
"I could see Reggie was not going to lose," Davis said. "He was going to be on point."
Miller is one of the most hated players by New York fans, especially noted film director Spike Lee. But on this night, the Pacers lived their dream and laughed in the face of their arch enemies.
"Reggie was awesome," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "He wanted it really bad. Reggie talked at the break about the demons and New York and it came down to us believing in the system and in each other. And that won the series.
"We went to Reggie a lot more as the game went on. The key was he stayed focused, believed in our team, believed in what we were trying to do. I'm very happy for Reggie and all the guys who haven't had the opportunity to play in the finals."
That group includes Derrick McKey, who had played the most playoff games without ever making the NBA Finals, and four others among the top eight in that category, including Dutch center Rik Smits and guard Mark Jackson.
"It was absolutely wonderful. There's no justice to put it in words," Jackson said. "Reggie and I have been talking about this for years. It's a wonderful feeling. We've been waiting 12 or 13 years for this, going to the championship, going to the show. We just want to soak this in."
"I'm as happy as I can be," Pacer guard Travis Best said. "We knew at the start of the season we could achieve this. Now that it's a reality, it feels great. It will be a long time sinking in."
For Patrick Ewing, the Knicks' aging center, the season represents another missed opportunity to claim the NBA title that has eluded him.
"I really dont have an explanation. There's no excuse," Ewing said. "Indiana deserved it. They played well enough to get the win. They made all the plays down the stretch and we didn't.
"I'm just disappointed. I don't care about the age. I think I have a lot of time. I'm just disappointed and frustrated we had a golden opportunity and we let it slip away."
New York coach Jeff Van Gundy gave the credit to Miller.
"He made the biggest shot of the game when we were down four and made a 3. He's a great player. He got away from us," Van Gundy said. "He showed a lot of character. Miller made sure he got more air space, more separation off the dribble and he did a good job getting free. We got outplayed,” -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)