INDIANAPOLIS, April 17 (Ticker) --
The Indiana Pacers looked up at the scoreboard and saw an opportunity. They didn't let it get away.
Given a chance to get into the playoffs, the Pacers did just that with an easy 103-80 victory over the shorthanded Philadelphia 76ers as big men Brad Miller and Jermaine O'Neal dominated inside.
Indiana began the final day of the season tied with Toronto and Milwaukee at 41-40 and was the odd team out had all three won their games. As their game began, the Pacers saw that Milwaukee was losing by 20 points at halftime at Detroit.
"When we saw Detroit was up 15-20 points and we were winning the basketball game, we knew we had a chance," Pacers coach Isiah Thomas said.
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Brad Miller stepped up large when the Pacers needed him most.
Indiana wasted very little time taking advantage, taking the lead for good after Philadelphia scored the game's first basket. The Pacers built a 49-35 halftime bulge and continued to widen
the margin in the second half.
Milwaukee ended up losing by 34 points, allowing Indiana to clinch its fifth straight playoff berth, the longest current streak in the Eastern Conference. After reaching the NBA Finals in 2000 and revamping their roster, the Pacers are the eighth seed for the second straight year.
This weekend, Indiana will visit top-seeded New Jersey. Last year, it surprised top-seeded Philadelphia in the opener before losing three straight games.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Thomas said. "It's a new season and it's everybody's ballgame. It's very tight in the East. We have a lot of respect for New Jersey. They've been the most consistent team in the East all season."
Miller had 19 points and seven rebounds and O'Neal shook off a sprained ankle to collect 18 and seven for the Pacers, who held a 44-30 edge on the boards. Indiana won its last five games to claim the conference's final berth.
"Last Monday, things weren't looking very good for us at all," Miller said. "We knew what we had to do and went out and got it done. No talking -- hard work, hard play with hard results."
"It's awesome the way they've responded, the way they met the challenge, the way they never quit," Thomas said. "We learned a valuable lesson -- it's an 82-game season and every game
The 76ers certainly didn't play that way. Starters Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo and Derrick Coleman and reserve Corie Blount sat out with injuries as Philadelphia (43-39) fell to sixth in the East. It will face long-time rival Boston in the first round.
"I'm disappointed only because of the integrity of the game," Sixers coach Larry Brown said. "I wish we could have had all of our players."
"Anyone who follows NBA history understands the rivalry between the two teams (Sixers and Celtics), and we know it will be tough," 76ers guard Eric Snow said.
A free throw by rookie Damone Brown opened the second period and pulled Philadelphia within 23-18 before Indiana rattled off six straight points to push the lead to double digits.
Snow countered with a jumper, but Reggie Miller sank a 3-pointer for a 32-20 advantage with 8:40 to go and it remained in double figures thereafter.
The Pacers led 49-35 at halftime and Brad Miller and O'Neal scored eight points each in the third period, which ended with Indiana holding a 73-57 advantage. The Pacers led by as many as 24 points.
Jeff Foster had 12 points and eight rebounds and Ron Artest added 11 and seven for Indiana, which shot 48.5 percent (33-of-68) and made 32-of-37 free throws.
Snow scored 16 points and Matt Harpring added 15 for the Sixers, who used their bench liberally, playing four rookies and two second-year players, Philadelphia shot 45 percent (33-of-74) and made 14-of-21 free throws.
"The young guys got to play a little bit out there tonight," Harpring said. "They got a chance to see what the NBA is really like."