Veteran Pacers fans remember the legendary playoff moments in the franchise's history. Such as the games that won championships in the ABA, Reggie Miller's moments in Madison Square Garden, or Travis Best's three-pointer that saved the final game of the first-round series with Milwaukee and sparked the trip to the NBA Finals in 2000.
Beneath the veneer of the obvious, though, there are equally impressive performances and equally dramatic games that would be remembered just as clearly if the timing had been more favorable – perhaps if they had come in the close-out game of a series, or in a later series, or, in the case of the ABA, in a modern media environment.
They are the Hidden Gems of the Pacers' playoff history. Here, in chronological order, are 10 games, or moments, that deserve to have the dust blown away so they can live again in our memories.
10. 2004 Second Round, Game 6
Date: May 18, 2004 Result: Pacers 73, Miami 70 />
A Pacers team has never rolled like the one that rolled through most of the 2003-04 season, Rick Carlisle's first season as coach. They won a franchise-record 61 games in the regular season, swept Boston in the first round of the playoffs by an average of 27 points, and then won the first two games of their second-round series with Miami by an average of 12 points.
All that prosperity, though, caught up with them when they went back to Miami for Games 3 and 4. The wives were permitted to travel with the team so they could enjoy a few days on South Beach, but the trip didn't turn out to be much of a vacation. The Pacers lost both games, by seven and 12 points, and the series was tied 2-2.
The Pacers won Game 5 back in Indianapolis, then returned to Miami for Game 6 – this time spouseless. They won, closing out the series, but had to overcome their most difficult challenge of their season to date.
You know how they're always having white-outs in Miami these days? They tried a black-out in Game 6, draping black T-shirts on all the seats. It didn't have an intimidating effect on the Pacers, though. More like a funereal effect on the Heat.
Miami, whose starting lineup consisted of Dwyane Wade, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant and Eddie Jones, had won 18 consecutive home games heading into this one. The game was close throughout, and the Heat were in position to tie or win in the final minute, but Jones fired an air ball from the right baseline when the Pacers led by two. Anthony Johnson scored the Pacers' last field goal of the game, but Ron Artest gave the Heat a final chance to tie the game by missing two foul shots with 10.7 seconds left. Rafer Alston, however, fired another air ball from the three-point line at the buzzer.
Somehow, the Pacers managed to win a game while shooting just 32 percent from the field, getting outscored in the paint and on second-chance and fastbreak points, and committing 18 turnovers.
“When you get six games deep into a series, it becomes a battle of wills,” Carlisle said.
Artest was the most poised of all the Pacers, despite the missed foul shots. He finished with 27 points, hitting 8-of-15 shots, and turned in the sort of defensive effort that had earned him the Defensive Player of the Year award that season.
Jermaine O'Neal had a memorable game, too, blocking Caron Butler's dunk attempt on the right baseline with a minute left in the game. He was poked in his left eye for his trouble, and it was still watering after the game.
“I'll take this home and show my daughter,” he said. “It's the reason I don't want her playing basketball.”
Ten years later, she's not. She's a volleyball player instead.
Side note: A second-year pro named Rasual Butler play a minute for Miami. Today he's keeping his career alive with the Pacers.
Artest's standout performance against the Heat didn't carry over to the conference finals. The Pacers won Game 1 over Detroit, but lost Game 2 on their homecourt, and lost the series in six games. It was a slugfest, with the Pacers failing to reach 70 points in three of the games, and topping out at 83. That was the series in which Artest strayed from the team, flying separately to Detroit for one of the games, causing an unneeded disruption.
But for one game in Miami, he had shown what he could be.
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