Indiana pulls ahead in race for final playoff spot

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Indiana Pacers ended a four-game road trip with a split -- barely.

The Pacers rallied after blowing a 25-point lead to beat the
Utah Jazz 89-83 on Tuesday night and pull slightly ahead in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It was nice to end the road trip with a victory. We split, which was what we wanted to do coming out West. We're excited about that," said Reggie Miller, who had 24 points in his final game in Utah.

Miller's farewell started just fine as Indiana scored the first 13 points of the game, but it was nearly an embarrassing loss.

Indiana held Utah without a field goal for the first 6:20. But after going up by 25 in the first half, the Pacers let the Jazz back into it and had to come back after falling behind by three in the final minutes.

Stephen Jackson scored 30 and Jeff Foster and Dale Davis both pulled down 10 rebounds for the Pacers. Indiana increased its lead over Philadelphia, which lost to Golden State on Tuesday, for the No. 8 playoff spot to 1½ games with the win.

"We played good for 3½ quarters. We knew Utah was going to make a run. They always do, especially in this building," Miller said. "We showed great resilience."

Anthony Johnson scored 13 for the Pacers, who are playing without leading scorer Jermaine O'Neal as he recovers from a sprained right shoulder.

"It just seemed like everything that could've gone wrong has gone wrong, but at the same time we have to be professionals," said Jackson, who opened the game with a 3-pointer and went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. "I think it's me and Reggie's job to hit shots and get us going offensively. Reggie stepped and played

Mehmet Okur led Utah with 18 points and 12 rebounds and Matt Harpring also scored 18 for the Jazz.

Andrei Kirilenko added 16 points and Keith McLeod had 11 points and six assists for Utah, which went just 27-for-73 from the floor while losing its third straight.

"I seems to be one of those things, kind of a repeat," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We get back in the ballgame and have a chance, then we turn the ball over and miss some shots. We really don't give ourselves much of a chance."

The Jazz couldn't hang on to their narrow lead down the stretch and started rushing some outside shots and then having to foul the Pacers. Indiana made its last six free throws to clinch it.

"At the end of the game, I think we were a little bit unlucky," Kirilenko said. "Like 20 games this season, we lost like that. Last minute, we lost the ball, didn't score and we lost the game. It's kind of frustrating."

It looked like a blowout early, but Utah kept slowly gaining on Indiana. The Jazz closed the third quarter with a 10-2 run, cutting Indiana's lead to seven on McLeod's 3-pointer and making it 69-64 entering the fourth on Gordan Giricek's 17-footer.

The Jazz continued to close in the first minute of the fourth when Harpring opened with a layup, then Kirilenko grabbed the rebound after he missed a jumper with one hand and dunked it to cut the margin to 69-68 with 11:09 left to play.

Utah had a chance to take its first lead on its next two possessions but missed both times. After falling behind by five again, McLeod went 1-for-2 from the line, but the Jazz got the rebound and Harpring hit a 3-pointer to make it 77-76 with about six minutes remaining.

After an airball by Miller, Harpring hit a 19-foot jumper to give Utah its first lead at 78-77 with 5:01 left. Raja Bell added two free throws to put the Jazz up by three, but Indiana took over from there.

Jackson made two free throws to make it a one-point game with 3:02 remaining, then Johnson hit a jumper to put Indiana back up for good.

Game notes
Miller received a warm ovation when he was introduced with the Pacers' starting lineup. He scored 15 in the first quarter. ... Utah didn't score until Harpring's free throws with 7:58 left in the first. Harpring also had Utah's first field goal, a layup with 5:40 remaining in the first.


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