INDIANAPOLIS -- With the Indiana Pacers a victory away from the NBA Finals, this city was ready to explode in celebration. Fans partied in the streets all day, waiting for the hour when their team would deal the knockout blow to the New York Knicks.
Instead, Indianapolis is a city with nothing to celebrate. The Knicks saw to that, starting strong and then holding off a late Indiana rally for a 98-91 win before a sellout crowd at Market Square Arena.
In a hostile environment, the Knicks were able to win their second road game of the playoffs, setting up Game 7 tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
"There was a massive, massive thud the other night with everybody jumping off the bandwagon," said coach Pat Riley, whose Knicks were labeled "chokers" by one New York tabloid after losing Game 5. "And I'm sure now there'll be a massive thud with everybody jumping back on it."
John Starks was impressive at both ends of the court. He scored 26 points and handed out six assists. Defensively, he hounded Reggie Miller, who, despite a game-high 27 points, was unable to get hot as he did Wednesday, when his 25 fourth-quarter points helped beat the Knicks.
Miller, elevated to legendary status in this city over the past two days, shot 8-for-21. He was 3-for-8 in the third quarter and committed a key turnover with 1:28 left and Indiana looking to tie.
Five Knicks scored in double figures, with Patrick Ewing getting 17 and Charles Oakley adding 14. The Knicks shot 51.7 percent, by far their most accurate game of the series.
"Tonight was all about pride," said Ewing, who grabbed a game-high 19 rebounds. "All of our fans and the media back in New York had given up hope on us. But we didn't. We knew we were going to be playing on Sunday."
For a while in the fourth quarter, it didn't seem as if it was going to happen. Unlike the losses here in Games 3 and 4, the Knicks got off to a fast start. The lead was 11 early in the opening quarter and 13 late in the third quarter.
But the Pacers, as they did Wednesday in the final quarter in New York, fought back. Indiana had a chance to take the lead with Miller on the line for two free throws with 2:06 left and the Pacers trailing 91-90.
The Pacers captain, a 83.7 percent free-throw shooter in the playoffs before last night, hit one of two. Sixteen seconds later, Derek Harper hit a jumper for a 93-91 New York lead.
New York scored the rest of its points from the free-throw line and, by holding the Pacers without a field goal over the last five minutes of the game, escaped with the win.
"That was a big miss by [Miller]. That probably gave us the energy to win the game," Starks said. "We thought he would make both, and we'd be down one."
The Pacers never led, hurt by the hot shooting by the Knicks in the first half. The Knicks entered the game shooting 43.5 percent, but in taking a 58-51 first-half lead, New York hit 57.1 percent. The Knicks backcourt was the difference, as Starks scored 11 first-half points, Harper six and Greg Anthony seven.
"I thought we got off to a real bad start, and a lot of that was their guard play was sensational early," Pacers coach Larry Brown said. "I thought they set the tone for the game."
The trio had 14 of New York's 17 steals. Harper and Anthony had five each, with Starks adding four. A lot of the steals came from poor Indiana passes and resulted in the Knicks' outscoring the Pacers 25-2 on the fast break.
"As a team, we thought we were ready to play, but after Wednesday night, we just didn't play like we wanted this one," said Pacers forward Antonio Davis. "They came out much more prepared and got off to a great start."
The Pacers were unable to pull off another come-from-behind finish, setting the scene for Game 7.