INDIANAPOLIS -- You could see that Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller wanted so badly to leap for joy because, up to this point in the Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls, he had nothing to celebrate. Up until yesterday, Miller had been a no-show for the Pacers, a superstar being held firmly in the defensive pocket of Bulls guard Ron Harper.
It took until the 12th quarter of the series, but Miller finally made his debut yesterday. And when he did, he exploded, scoring 13 fourth-quarter points on an injured right ankle to help lead the Pacers to a 107-105 victory over the Bulls at Market Square Arena.
With the win, the Pacers now trail the best-of-seven series 2-1. While a loss yesterday would have had the Pacers facing an elimination game at home tomorrow, instead they gained some confidence as they are now assured of returning to the United Center on Wednesday for a Game 5.
"We understood that Chicago was going to come here with no pressure to win Game 3, and history tells us they're strong in Game 3's," Miller said. "But we have a lot of pride. We have a lot of veterans on this team and we were not going to go down without a fight."
While it is the veteran makeup of the Indiana team that attracted Larry Bird to coach here, it was the play of several youngsters that put Miller in the position to come through with his late-game heroics. Reserve forward Jalen Rose, who was averaging 7.6 points in just under 19 minutes in the playoffs, came off the bench to score 15 points and hand off six assists in 28 minutes.
And reserve guard Travis Best gave the Pacers a different look at the point with his quickness, and had 11 points and four assists in 25 minutes. It was the first game of the series that Best played more minutes than Mark Jackson, who prior to yesterday had been completely taken out of his game by the defensive play of Bulls forward Scottie Pippen.
"I thought our second unit was playing great," said Bird, whose bench outscored Chicago's bench, 43-25. "They did an excellent job on the defensive end. Travis was getting some things done for us. He was getting the ball up the court faster -- he played well."
Jackson played his fewest minutes on the day when he perhaps played his best game of the series. After turning the ball over seven times in each of the first two games, Jackson had just two turnovers yesterday to go along with his six assists and 13 points. That the officials whistled Pippen for fouls for reaching in on plays that he got away with in Chicago -- and that the Pacers set physical screens on him early in attempts to free Jackson on offense -- helped.
"They sent a message early when they knocked a couple of guys down," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. "I don't know if it was more physical than previous games, but I think they carried the physical play."
Indiana scored the final eight points of the third quarter -- the biggest play coming on a three-pointer by Rose, after a missed free throw by Derrick McKey, with 48 seconds left pulled the Pacers within 77-75. The Pacers tied the game at 77 going into the final quarter, when Miller stepped up.
Miller had left the game with 5: 57 left in the third with asprained ankle, and for the first few minutes after his return early in the fourth, he was basically just a decoy on offense.
But Miller got untracked with a three-pointer from the corner with 4: 11 left, which gave Indiana a 92-87 lead. Over a span of 2 minutes, 37 seconds, Miller would connect on all four of his attempts -- three of the shots three-pointers.
His final field goal -- a three-pointer with 1: 34 left -- gave the Pacers a 101-93 lead. And as the crowd began a chant of "Reggie, Reggie," the gimpy Miller skipped to the jubilant Indiana bench.
"I heard something pop in my ankle, but I had to keep going," Miller said. "I'm just glad my shots fell."
Given the fact that he had been quiet most of the series, it was really just a matter of time.
"You leave him open, he'll hit the shots," said Michael Jordan, who led the Bulls with 30 points. "He's capable."
And the Pacers, who are now 27-0 this season when they score at least 100 points, feel they are capable of making noise in this series. Indiana is 6-0 at home during the playoffs, with Game 4 here tomorrow.
Still the Bulls, who desperately wanted to keep pace with the Utah Jazz, which can close its series with the Los Angeles Lakers today, do not appear to be alarmed.
"They can take a deep breath," Phil Jackson said. "They know they have another day to survive."
Pub Date: 5/24/98