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.
9. 2002 First Round, Game 1
Date: April 20, 2002 Result: Pacers 89, New Jersey 83 />
Just as they had done a year earlier when they opened the playoffs in Philadelphia, the Pacers went on the road and stole Game 1 from New Jersey in 2002. But, again, they weren't ready to win a series against a top-seeded team that was headed for the NBA Finals.
The Pacers took a 10-point first-half lead behind Jermaine O'Neal, who scored 24 of his 30 points before the break. The Nets dared to single-cover him, and couldn't do a thing to control him as he hit seven consecutive field goals. Turnaround jumpers. Squared-up jumpers. Spinning post moves. O'Neal often was often unstoppable in his young-legged days.
New Jersey switched to a double-teaming strategy and contained him in the second half – for the rest of the six-game series, actually – but the Pacers held on for an 89-83 victory to take a 1-0 lead.
O'Neal had plenty of help, though. Brad Miller finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, and Ron Artest picked off three steals over a stretch of four Nets possessions around the four-minute mark, each of which led to a Pacers field goal. They recovered from a one-point deficit to take a three-point lead as a result.
“You never know what Ron Artest is going to do,” Reggie Miller said, prophetically. “That's the joy of having him on your team. I kind of like it sometimes when he goes crazy, because he has passion. He just wants to win.”
The Pacers also would get significant contributions throughout the series from backup point guard Kevin Ollie, who had been acquired earlier in the season in the seven-player trade with Chicago that brought Artest, Brad Miller and Ron Mercer. Ollie, who coached Connecticut to the NCAA championship this year, played starter minutes in most of the games because Jamaal Tinsley was nursing a strained right knee. Ollie, for example, played 34 minutes in the Pacers' only other win in the series, a Game 4 victory in Indianapolis, and contributed 11 points, nine assists and just two turnovers.
The Nets, though, had too much experience and too much firepower. Their starting lineup included Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. Future Pacer Anthony Johnson was their third-string point guard.
This series is best-remembered for the close-out game in New Jersey, in which Reggie Miller forced two overtimes with a 40-bank shot at the regulation buzzer – on a feed from Ollie – and a two-handed dunk through traffic at the end of the first overtime.
Game 1, however, offered a hint of the impressive Pacers nucleus that would all-too-briefly dominate the Eastern Conference.
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