What Past Pacers Teams Did to Gain "Roadcourt" Advantage
The Pacers are a mere 5-20 in NBA playoff series when they haven't had homecourt advantage. That shouldn't be surprising, because the higher-seeded team, which opens the series at home, is almost certain to have superior talent. For the lesser team to win a best-of-seven series, it's likely something unusual needs to happen. Sometimes many things.
Here's a look at the five times Pacers teams have found a way to create a "roadcourt advantage" for themselves.
Opponent: New York
Seeding: Pacers 3, New York 2
Series outcome: Pacers, 4-2
Summary: Two days after eliminating the Hawks in Atlanta in Game 6 of the first-round series, the Pacers stormed Madison Square Garden to steal Game 1 in the second round with a 102-95 victory over the Knicks. New York never gained momentum in the series as the Pacers' balance was too much to overcome.
All five Pacers starters led the scoring in at least one game of the series: David West in Game 1 (20), Paul George in Game 2 (20) and Game 5 (23), Roy Hibbert in Game 3 (24), George Hill in Game 4 (26) and Lance Stephenson in Game 6 (25). They all appeared together in the media room for the postgame press conference after Game 6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which reflected the team's balance and spirit.
Surprise element: Backup point guard D.J. Augustin, who had been a disappointment through most of the regular season while averaging 4.7 points, came off the bench to score 16 points and hit 4-of-5 3-pointers in Game 1.
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Seeding: Pacers 6, Boston 3
Series outcome: Pacers, 4-3
Summary: This series win provided a reasonably uplifting ending to what had been an agonizing season for the Pacers, given what happened at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November. A legitimate title contender when the season began, they finished 44-38 due mostly to the upheaval caused by the lengthy suspensions for starters Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson.
O'Neal and Jackson returned, but Artest was lost for the season. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley also missed the second half of the season with a foot injury. Still, the Pacers won 11 of their final 16 games and with the suspended players back were better than a typical sixth-seeded team.
The Pacers softened up the Celtics by losing the series opener by 20 points. Boston was led by Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Gary Payton, but its reserves did the most damage in the game, including a rookie center named Al Jefferson who scored eight points while hitting all three shots and grabbing seven rebounds. But the Pacers came back in Game 2 for a three-point victory. Thirty-nine-year-old Reggie Miller, nearing the end of his 18-season career, scored what turned out to be the game-winning basket with a floater with 37.1 seconds left.
The series was on. But it was off-kilter the rest of the way.
Miller scored 33 points to lead a 23-point victory in Game 3 that seemingly put the Pacers in command, but actually didn't. The road team won each of the final four games, making a mockery of the theory of homecourt advantage.
The Pacers failed to close out the series when they lost in overtime at Conseco Fieldhouse in Game 6. They seemed a fractured squad at that point, with Jackson complaining to reporters afterward that he had been blamed by a teammate (thought to be O'Neal) for the loss. "It's my fault," he grumbled. "That's the word."
It could have been an ugly way for Miller to have ended his career before the home fans, but Antoine Walker unintentionally inspired the Pacers. He claimed afterward that the Fieldhouse was closed for the season and Miller would never play there again. That struck home with several Pacers heading into Game 7. Oh, and Walker also made a point of repeatedly shouting toward reporters as he exited the court, "Let's see whose boo-tay is tight now!"
Turns out it was the Celtics' boo-tay. The Pacers bounced back to win Game 7 in Boston two nights later. Not just win it, but dominate it. Miller scored just five points, but Jackson of all people led the way with 24. Jeff Foster also rose to the occasion with nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds. He later called playing a key role in prolonging Miller's career one of the highlights of his own career.
The Pacers had to fly from Boston to Detroit to open their second-round series two nights later against the defending champion in the very place their season has gone so badly awry in November. They won Game 2 there and then took Game 3 back in Indianapolis for a 2-1 series lead that raised hopes for a stunning upset, but lost the final three games.
Still, Miller got to end his Pacers career on his home court and exited in the final minute to a standing ovation.
Surprise element: Fred Jones, who had scored 16 points total in the first six games of the series, scored 16 points in the second half of Game 7, hitting all four of his 3-point shots.
Opponent: New York
Seeding: Pacers 2, Knicks 3
Series outcome: Pacers, 4-3
Summary: The Pacers were technically the No. 2 seed by virtue of winning their division, but the Knicks were awarded homecourt advantage because they had the better regular season record.
The Pacers had taken New York to seven games in the conference finals the previous year before falling, but were no longer intimidated by the Knicks or Madison Square Garden. They proved that in Game 1 when Reggie Miller delivered one of the most historic sequences in NBA history by scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds in the final minute of the game to lead a remarkable Pacers' comeback in a 107-105 victory.
The Pacers won Games 2 and 3 back in Indianapolis for a 3-1 lead, but dropped the next two, including a 10-point loss at Market Square Arena in Game 6. They bounced back to win Game 7 when a hobbled Patrick Ewing missed a finger roll layup as the final buzzer sounded, leaving the Pacers with a 97-95 win.
It remains one of the most historic moments in Pacers' history. Radio broadcaster Mark Boyle doesn't look back fondly on his "Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead!" call when the game ended, but it represented the feelings of a lot of Pacers fans.
Surprise element: While the series is best remembered for Miller's heroics and Ewing's final miss, Dale Davis provided the inspiration that carried the Pacers through Game 7.
He had separated his shoulder in Game 4 and worn a brace in the next two games. He discarded it for Game 7, though, and contributed 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, seven rebounds and no turnovers in 33 minutes. He was all the more crucial because center Rik Smits was limited to 27 minutes by foul trouble.
"The kid is playing at 60 percent," said Miller, who scored 29 points. "That shows heart and when we see something like that we rally around."
Seeding: Pacers 5, Magic 4
Series outcome: Pacers, 3-0
Summary: Former Laker Byron Scott brought championship pedigree to the Pacers in the 1993-94 season, and backed it up with the biggest shot in franchise history up to that point in Game 1 of this season.
The Pacers, who had never won an NBA playoff series to that point, trailed by 17 points against the Magic. But Scott hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with two seconds left to give them an 89-88 victory in Orlando. Given the best-of-five format for first-round playoff series at the time, the momentum swing was huge.
Scott's great shot came off an offensive rebound by Dale Davis and an assist from Reggie Miller, who drove toward the free throw line, drew defenders, and kicked out a pass to Scott, who had just entered the game before the possession began with 13.3 seconds left.
"Everyone was running at Reggie Miller," Magic center Shaquille O'Neal said.
The Pacers won Game 2 behind Miller's 32 points, and got a possible boost from a controversial official's call. Haywood Workman's shot as the shot clock ran down was blocked by O'Neal, who hit a streaking Penny Hardaway for a dunk that would have tied the game at 103. But referee Dick Bavetta whistled the play dead, calling a shot clock violation, and Hardaway missed an off-balance eight-footer at the buzzer.
With so much talk of a sweep, officials at Market Square Arena had to post signs telling fans not to bring brooms into the building as a safety precaution. The Pacers went on to deliver the victory that provided the breakthrough in postseason play, outscoring the Magic 29-8 over the final 10:03.
The leading scorer? Take a guess. Miller scored 31 in this one.
Surprise element: Haywoode Workman wrote a great underdog story throughout the season for the Pacers, coming off the league scrap heap to become a legitimate starting point guard. He played a key role in the Game 1 victory, when he admittedly was nervous over playing in his first playoff game. He had five turnovers in the first half, but none in the second and finished with seven steals and 11 assists. He also limited All-Star Penny Hardaway to a relatively mediocre game with 12 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers.
Seeding: Pacers, 5 Hawks 1
Series outcome: Pacers, 4-2
Summary: The series against Orlando is better remembered because of Byron Scott's game-winning shot and the historical significance of the first NBA playoff advancement, but the win over Atlanta in the next round was a greater accomplishment. The Hawks – led by Danny Manning, Mookie Blaylock and Kevin Willis - had won 57 games in the regular season, 10 more than the Pacers, and were the top-seeded team in the East.
The Pacers once again stole Game 1, though, with a 96-85 victory in Atlanta. When the series ended, the Hawks players thought they had lost the series there.
The Pacers lost Game 2 in Atlanta, but easily won the next two games in Indianapolis, by 20 and then 16 points. Failing to wrap up the series in Atlanta in Game 5, they clinched it in Market Square in Game 6, 97-89. Rik Smits led the scoring with 27, but the game itself contained relatively little drama - except for the outcome, which thrilled what a newspaper article described as an "atomic" sellout crowd, and convinced skeptics the first-round victory had not been a fluke.
"This is the best," Miller said afterward. "All those years when we only had seven, eight thousand fans, they'd leave after the third quarter … finally.
"To finally have a consistent winner … when you go on the road, you say you play for Indiana, they ask where Bobby Knight is. Finally, everyone knows who the Indiana Pacers are."
Surprise element: If Game 1 determined the series outcome, the Davises had the most crucial individual performances of the series. Dale finished with 14 points and 15 rebounds and Antonio came off the bench to contribute 15 points and six rebounds – 14 points and five rebounds in the second half.
"I can't say enough about both Davises," Larry Brown said. "It was our defense and the presence of the big guys. Those two kids have done it every playoff game so far."
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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