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Pacers Looking to Write Their Own History

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

May 4, 2013, 7:47 PM

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A Pacers-Knicks playoff series needs hype like a drowning man needs a drink of water. Anyone who was paying attention to the NBA in the 1990s recalls all the Miller-time moments in Madison Square Garden, the David and Goliath angle of the small market taking on the behemoth market, the (false) image of Midwestern kids who grew up shooting at a goal nailed to the side of a barn taking on the big city kids who played on the hard asphalt in the park.

The two teams met in six playoff series between 1993 and 2000, splitting them evenly. They played 35 games in all, with the Pacers winning 18 of them. The Knicks won 12 of the 18 played in Madison Square Garden, but most of the greatest moments in the Pacers' NBA playoff history have occurred in victories there.

Such as:

  • Reggie Miller scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter in Game 5 in 1994.
  • Miller scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds in Game 1 of 1995.
  • Miller hitting a three-pointer to force overtime, captured in an iconic photograph that inspired a documentary, in Game 4 in 1998.
  • Miller scoring 34 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, to lead a comeback victory that sent the Pacers to their only NBA Finals appearance in Game 6 in 2000.

One of the Pacers' greatest disappointments came in the Garden as well. In the lockout-shortened season of 1999, when they were the most popular pre-season pick to win the championship, they lost Game 3 when Knicks forward Larry Johnson was allowed a four-point play after he was bumped by Antonio Davis, dribbled, hit a three-pointer, was given a foul and added a free throw. The Knicks won the game by a point, and won the series 4-2. A year later, referee Jess Kersey admitted he had blown the call.

Related: Taking a Detour into History »

So here they are again, reuniting with the Knicks for another rendezvous in the second round of the playoffs, starting Sunday in the Garden. It's instant nostalgia for fans, especially those in Indiana, and it's sure to get the full nationwide historical perspective when Miller himself helps broadcast Game 2 on Tuesday.

Here's the catch, though: Most of the current inhabitants of Pacers uniforms know next to nothing about the history of this postseason rivalry. They were too young or too interested in other things to have noticed the heat generated by the Pacers and Knicks all those years ago. It's been 13 years since they met in a playoff game, and time has indeed marched on.

“There's a gap,” the oldest Pacers player, David West, said following the team's light workout at the New York Athletic Club on Saturday.

Related: Pacers-Knicks Game 1 Preview »

“It's a good moment for the organization to rekindle the history of the series, but it's a totally different era.”

West grew up in New Jersey, but was only a “semi-Knicks fan.” He was more interested in the Nets, and when the family moved to North Carolina for his sophomore year in high school, the Knicks dropped from his radar completely. He remembers watching Miller unleash those eight points in 1995, but not much else from any of the series.

Lance Stephenson grew up in Brooklyn, but was only eight years old when the teams last met in the playoffs, and was a Lakers fan, anyway. His memories are vague. Roy Hibbert was a 13-year-old kid in Maryland then, but didn't follow the NBA much.

George Hill is the exception. Growing up in Indianapolis, he couldn't escape the hysterics over the rivalry. He attended Pacers games from time to time, although rarely in the playoffs because his family couldn't afford the tickets. He did attend the playoff game against Chicago in 1998 when Miller famously pushed off Michael Jordan and took Derrick McKey's inbound pass for a game-winning three-pointer, but not games against the Knicks. He followed the Pacers, though. He patronized the same barber shop as Dale and Antonio Davis, and he would see McKey at a Church's chicken restaurant.

So, as a Pacers fan who was born in 1986, he has some vivid memories of playoff games with the Knicks.

“That was good, hard playoff basketball,” he recalled.

Several of the Pacers have not even watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Winning Time, which captured the drama of Miller's playoff heroics against the Knicks. West has not. Paul George caught only a glimpse. “I saw a little bit of it, but I had to run out, so I couldn't really watch it,” he said.

Photo Galleries: Pacers-Knicks '93-'95 »   '98-'00 »   Reg vs Knicks »

For George, and the rest of his teammates, the upcoming series represents a chance to write his own history, not relive someone else's.

“It don't carry that much weight with me,” he said. “For me, it's another opportunity to prove myself and play against some great competition.”

Nobody among the Pacers would love to make some Garden history more than the Brooklyn native Stephenson. He scored 22 while hitting 4-of-9 three-pointers the last time the Pacers played there, on April 14. He'll have family and friends on hand, but doesn't plan to purchase any tickets beyond the four complimentary ones he'll receive.

“The bright lights, the fans ... it makes you hyped and gives you the energy to play that game,” he said.

“(But) it's just a hometown game. I've had a lot of big games in the Garden. It's a regular game to me.”

Stephenson estimates he played in the Garden about eight times while leading his high school team to various championships.

Did he play well?

“All the time,” he said, laughing.

Coach Frank Vogel, of course, is plenty old enough to remember the games. He was attending college or working as a video coordinator in college during the peak years of the rivalry. He tried to copy Miller's ability to shoot off of screens while he still played, and remembers Johnson's three-pointer and Miller's trash talk with Spike Lee from watching on television.

His job now is to help his team create more memories. As a coach who looks for creative ways to motivate his players, often through clips from movies, might Winning Time be an option?

“I haven't thought about it,” he said. “It's a good idea, though.”

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