INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Reggie Miller's resurgence has the Indiana
Pacers back in the playoffs. His teammates hope they can extend his
career with one more memorable postseason run.
Miller scored seven points in another of his patented late
shooting flurries Wednesday night, helping the Pacers rally from a
six-point deficit to beat the New Jersey Nets 90-86 and clinch an
eighth straight playoff berth.
"Reggie is such a class guy and such a professional and such a
great teammate, you definitely don't want to let him down," guard
Anthony Johnson said. "A lot of it has to do with him and trying
to send him out the right way."
The Pacers needed Miller more than ever since March 3, when
All-Star Jermaine O'Neal went down with a sprained right shoulder.
O'Neal hasn't played since, but Miller has rallied Indiana, which
is now playing its best basketball of the season.
It has won eight of its last nine, 14 of its last 18 at home and
is getting contributions from some unlikely places.
Five months ago, the playoffs seemed an implausible goal after
the Pacers' season was nearly ruined by a Nov. 19 brawl with
Detroit Pistons fans.
All-Star Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season,
Stephen Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 25, a penalty later
reduced to 15. In all, the Pacers have lost more than 400 games to
injuries, suspensions and illness this season. They never started
their projected lineup, but Miller never allowed his teammates to
succumb to the adversity.
"I think a lot of people probably wrote us off after what
happened in Detroit, and it easily could have been a death sentence
for this franchise and this organization," he said. "But I knew
personally I was going to be judged by what we did after that."
But it took one more charge from Miller and the Pacers to assure
Indiana would be best remembered for the ability to overcome the
odds rather than the perhaps the biggest black eye in NBA history.
Jason Kidd led New Jersey with 29 points, 15 rebounds and six
assists, while Vince Carter added 22 points and five rebounds. The
Nets blew a 14-point first-half lead and a six-point lead in the
final 2:22 when it appeared they were pulling away.
Their three-game winning streak ended and they lost on the road
for the first time since March 13. The Nets also dropped 1½ games
behind idle Philadelphia in the race for the final Eastern
Conference playoff spot.
"The bottom line is this: It's a five-game playoff," coach
Lawrence Frank said. "This was Game 1 and we lost. But we've lost
Game 1 before in a five-game series."
The Nets were done in by a barrage of 3-pointers and Miller's
Indiana finished with 12 3-pointers and managed to stay close
enough with virtual unknowns like Gill and Jones, who contributed
to the Pacers 41-18 advantage off the bench.
And Austin Croshere's buzzer-beating 21-footer just before
halftime seemed to spark the Pacers after an uncharacteristic half
in which they allowed New Jersey to shoot 50 percent from the
field, take control with two first-quarter surges and lead by as
much as 49-35 late. The Pacers also drew three technical fouls in
While Jackson added 17 points and Croshere 13, Miller again
played the catalyst.
With the Pacers trailing 83-77 and 2:22 to go, Miller connected
on a long 3-pointer and flopped to the ground, drawing a foul on
Clifford Robinson. Miller, again the league's top free throw
shooter, completed the rare four-point play and then hit another 3
on the Pacers' next possession to tie the score at 84 with 2:00
left. Robinson contended it was not a foul.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle disagreed.
"He came off some baseline screens, lined it up and Cliff
Robinson ran through him," Carlisle said. "Taking from six to two
was really big."
Jones followed that with a 22-footer to make it 86-84 with 1:12
left and after Carter drew his fourth foul with 17 seconds to go,
Johnson hit one free throw to make it 87-84.
The Pacers gave New Jersey one more chance when Dale Davis made
one free throw with 8.6 seconds left, but Carter missed a potential
tying 3-pointer in the final seconds and Miller's Pacers hung on.
"Reggie was big tonight, Reggie is big every night," Kidd
said. "He made some Reggie plays. ... He put his team in position
to win the ballgame."
The loss ended New Jersey's bid to tie the franchise record
for most consecutive road victories (six). ... Carter scored 11
points in the first quarter. He scored a league-high 24 in the
first quarter against Boston on Saturday. ... Miller's three steals
gave him 1,502 for his career. He is the 31st player in NBA history
to top 1,500.
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