Jalen Rose lost half a tooth but found his shooting touch when it mattered most, scoring 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to bring the Indiana Pacers their greatest triumph, Thursday in Indianapolis.
The fifth-year guard voted the Most Improved Player in the National Basketball Association jammed in a clinching dunk with 2.4 seconds to play as Indiana beat New York 88-84 for a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven semi-final.
"This was the biggest victory in Pacer basketball history," Indiana guard Reggie Miller said. "We knew we were going against a hungry team. We made big plays when we needed to and our defense pulled it out. It was a great victory."
Rose, 3-of-13 after three quarters here Thursday, made 4-of-6 shots from the field in the final period and became the first Pacer to play all 48 minutes in a playoff game despite being hit in the mouth and suffering a chipped tooth.
"I'm sitting here with half a tooth knocked out and I was 7-of-19, but I will take it," Rose said. "That's playoff basketball. That's what it's all about at this point. It's not going to be pretty. But I'll take it."
Games three and four will be Saturday and Monday in New York, with Indiana two victories shy of a first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
The Pacers are in the semi-finals for the fifth time in seven years and third season in a row, but have twice been ousted by the Knicks, including last year.
"It's a much bigger difference going to New York up 2-0 rather than 1-1," Miller said. "We were telling the guys this was the biggest game in franchise history. We told everyone, 'Don't leave it up to someone else.' Everyone was going to have to pull their weight.'"
The Knicks might play the rest of the way without 14-year veteran center Patrick Ewing, who went out with a strained tendon in his right foot 6:31 into the game. Ewing missed last year's NBA Finals with a torn left Achilles tendon.
"I don't really know what happened," Ewing said. "I tried to make a play to go to the basket and I felt something pull."
Larry Johnson scored 25 points and Allan Houston added 15 to pace New York, but Latrell Sprewell managed only 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting, due in large part to outstanding defense by Rose.
"We did a great playing," Rose said. "And without Ewing, that gave them one less scoring threat. It felt great to be out there with the situation in hand."
Reggie Miller added 19 points and Dale Davis added three points and 16 rebounds, none more crucial that the last, which came after he missed two free throws with 5.8 seconds to go and set up his pass to Rose for the final dunk.
"That's a scary situation," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "Stranger things have happened. When he got it back, that was a good feeling. We got very lucky. We missed layups. We missed free throws. We did play very hard. They outplayed us. We got very fortunate."
"I don't think it was luck," countered New York coach Jeff Van Gundy. "We just didn't step up in the last three minutes and we couldn't get a rebound when it mattered most. Those are the type of plays you have got to make."
Dutch center Rik Smits scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point play to pull Indiana level at 80-80 with 3:01 to play.
"The reason we won was because of Rik," Miller said. "That 3-point play was huge. The reason we got into the game is because of Rik."
Despite Ewing's absence, Smits missed 6-of-7 shots and had only two points in the first three quarters.
"Rik was getting frustrated," Bird said. "He was missing shots. He was off balance all night but he did make some big plays for us down the stretch,” -- (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)