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.
8. 2001 First Round, Game 1
Date: April 21, 2001 Result: Pacers 79, Philadelphia 78/>
Philadelphia reached the NBA Finals in 2001, but the Pacers injected a dose of serious doubt into their psyche when the playoffs began. For one afternoon, it seemed nothing had changed from the previous two seasons, when the Pacers had extinguished them from the postseason.
The Pacers were a drastically different team this time around, with a young, revamped eighth-seeded squad led by a first-year coach, Isiah Thomas. They still had Reggie Miller, though, and he delivered a nostalgic knockout punch that stole Game 1 on a Saturday afternoon in Philly.
Miller psyched himself up for the series by going with a retro haircut like he had as a rookie in the late eighties, growing his hair back and shaving a couple of parts on the left side.
“When I had this haircut, that's when I just played the game,” he explained later. “I really didn't know what I was doing then. I was learning on the fly. I think I had a lot of my best games when I had this haircut. I wanted to recapture that feeling, but add in the knowledge I've grown with over the last eight or nine years.”
The Pacers were in dire need of a flashback from Miller after they fell behind by 18 points in the third quarter. He had done his part to dig the hole by hitting just three of his first 17 shots, but came back to hit two three-pointers in the final three minutes – including the game-winner with 2.9 seconds left.
The Pacers had the ball out of bounds at midcourt with 11.7 seconds, trailing by two points. Miller ran right to left on the baseline, curled off Austin Croshere's pick, took a pass from Jalen Rose, and to the surprise of nobody hit (yet another) clutch three-pointer over Allen Iverson's outstretched hand.
Said Miller: “I knew it was coming. You guys knew it was coming. The crowd knew it was coming. The people at home knew it was coming.”
But nobody from Philly could do anything about it.
“Let's face it,” a shell-shocked Iverson said afterward. “They've got our number. They've got our number.”
The Pacers got a few other crucial contributions, too.
Jermaine O'Neal, playing his first season with them after his acquisition in a trade with Portland, grabbed 20 rebounds, a franchise record for an NBA postseason game.
Travis Best had back spasms that nearly prevented him from playing, and started only because the Pacers' training staff didn't want his back to tighten up while sitting on the bench at the start of the game. He finished with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 10 assists and one turnover, and held Iverson to 16 points, 15 below his average.
The Philly scorekeeper pitched in, too, by failing to start the clock one time in the first quarter and extending the game by 15 seconds – seconds that proved awfully valuable for the Pacers at the end.
The 76ers went on to win the next three games, closing out the series in Indianapolis. For one glorious afternoon, though, it was like old times for Pacers fans.
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