Friday, May 26, 2000

Pacers sitting pretty even if win wasn't


Loss of Ewing may doom N.Y.

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        INDIANAPOLIS — Reggie Miller's first reaction was rapture. In the sweaty afterglow of victory Thursday night, the Indiana Pacers' star and spokesman declared it the biggest win in the history of the franchise.

        Miller says a lot of things — and some of them are silly — but this time he was straight-faced and sincere. The Pacers had beaten the New York Knicks, 88-84, and seized a 2-0 lead in the NBA's Eastern Conference finals, and they had done it almost in spite of themselves.

        Sometimes in sports when you can win ugly, you can win big.

        “We got very lucky,” Pacers coach Larry Bird said. “We didn't play well. We missed layups. We missed free throws. I really thought they outplayed us. We finally got some luck in the playoffs.”

        To say what it means is premature. To say how it looks, however, is easy. The Pacers are halfway to the NBA Finals and Knicks center Patrick Ewing may be out indefinitely. If the NBA was depending on a New York-Los Angeles final to boost its sagging television ratings, alternative plans might be in order.

        The initial diagnosis of Ewing's injury indicated a strained peroneal tendon in his right foot. He never returned to Thursday's game after leaving it with 5:29 to play in the first quarter.

        “I don't know what happened,” Ewing said. “I was trying to make a move to the basket and I felt something.”

        The Knicks are quicker without Ewing, more adept at transition basketball, more graceful and less grinding. They beat the Pacers last year with Ewing on the bench with a torn Achilles tendon. Yet after neutralizing Indiana's 7-foot-4 Rik Smits for three quarters Thursday, they had no answers for him at the end. The Pacers prevailed by exploiting Ewing's absence, New York's depleted depth and its mounting foul trouble.

        “I personally have not done anything special to play more in the fourth quarter and be effective,” said Smits, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final period. “I got good looks in the beginning, but they didn't fall. But I just kept after it — I was encouraged to.”

        It wasn't pretty, but it worked. Miller said taking advantage of Smits' size advantage over Ewing's stand-in, Kurt Thomas, could be the secret to the rest of the series. Miller's game is the outside jumper, but the Pacers win by beating people in the paint and (on most nights) by avoiding beating themselves.

        “We're not the fastest team or the most athletic team,” said Jalen Rose, who led Indiana with 24 points. “But we're a team that makes good decisions.”

        The Knicks are a team that forces you to play smart, because they refuse to let you play comfortable. They held the Pacers to 36 percent shooting with determined on-the-ball defense and full-court coordination. The Pacers scored only four points off their fast break.

        “This is playoff basketball,” Indiana's Jalen Rose said. “I'm sitting here with half my tooth knocked out and I was 7-for-19 (from the field), but I'll take it.”

        “This is a painful loss,” Ewing said. “I thought we had our opportunities to win this game, but we didn't make the plays down the stretch to secure the game. It's hard to sit there watching. The win could have gone either way, but we needed it more than they did.”

        Now, New York's need is that much greater, and Indiana's position that much more promising.

        “A lot of times teams talk about taking it one at a time,” said New York guard Allan Houston. “But we feel we have to win two in a row at home.”

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        NBA playoff coverage from Associated Press



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