INDIANAPOLIS -- It's one of Reggie Miller's favorite lines: "Don't leave any bullets in your gun when you're finished." And yet, with 2.9 seconds left yesterday and his team trailing the Chicago Bulls by a point, Miller hadn't heeded his advice, with zero shot attempts in the final quarter to that point.
But all a true marksman needs is one shot.
Miller, playing on a sprained right ankle that limited his effectiveness, got that shot. And his only attempt of the quarter was delivered with the skill of the sharpshooter that he is, his 25-foot three-pointer with 0.7 of a second left giving the Pacers a thrilling 96-94 win over the Bulls that evened the NBA Eastern Conference finals at 2-2.
In hitting the clutch three-pointer, Miller and his teammates earned the right to celebrate. And celebrate they did, but only after having to witness Michael Jordan catch an inbounds pass, turn, double-clutch and hoist a shot that rimmed out after banking off the glass.
At the conclusion of that sequence -- all somehow happening in less than a second -- the Market Square Arena crowd erupted with cheers of "Reggie, Reggie, Reggie."
"Every time I shoot the ball, I think it's in," said a subdued Jordan, whose stitches above his right eye after a first-quarter elbow made him look like a prizefighter. "I was surprised I got it off. But a lot of things surprised me."
And Jordan wasn't referring to the two straight losses, which left the Bulls playing at least a six-game series against an Indiana team that is growing with confidence.
No, what Jordan and the Bulls were complaining about was the officiating. Coach Phil Jackson peppered his post-game remarks with comments such as the Pacers "had many opportunities that they didn't deserve" and the officials "acted like they were afraid on the court," earning almost certainly a league fine this week.
"Just inadequacies, judgment calls that were stunning," Jackson said. "You hate to [complain] about every call. But the little things that happened at the end the things that happened in front of our bench were bothersome."
So what happened at the end that upset the Bulls? For starters, a three-point shot by Travis Best with 2: 36 left that capped a 14-2 run and gave the Pacers a 91-89 lead -- even though it appeared Best's toe was on the arc.
And there was a skirmish in front of the Bulls' bench after Ron Harper appeared to pull Miller down, with the Chicago bench claiming the Indiana guard threw a punch in retaliation. No technical was called.
Even Miller's shot wasn't without controversy, as he shoved Jordan off balance to get free for the attempt -- coming in a quarter in which Jordan was called for two offensive fouls, part of his game-high six turnovers.
"I think before this series started, Antonio Davis said something that's hitting home with me now -- that everybody in the league wants to beat the Bulls," Jordan said.
"It's pretty obvious. It's us against the world, no matter how you look at it. A lot of things happened in the fourth quarter. You can put the blame on a lot of different things."
Beyond that indirect dig at the officials, the Pacers wouldn't have been in a position to win had they not had a series-low six turnovers (tying a franchise record).
Or the clutch play of Rik Smits (26 points), Best (10 points, eight in the fourth quarter) and Jalen Rose (six of his eight points in the fourth, plus aggressive defense on Jordan). All had to carry the load because Miller was physically unable to.
At the end, Miller got his opportunity after Scottie Pippen (12 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds) missed two free throws with 4.7 seconds left and his team ahead 94-93.
"Pressure can get to anybody; it doesn't matter if you're in the NBA's Top 50," Miller said. "At that particular time, it got hold of Scottie."
But not Miller. After the second Pippen miss, the ball was knocked out of bounds -- official Ronnie Nunn ruled a jump ball, but was overruled by Hugh Evans, who gave possession to Indiana.
On the inbounds play, Miller shook free of Harper, pushed off to evade Jordan and got enough space to launch his game-winning shot. And even the bad ankle didn't stop him from several celebratory twirls.
"I shouldn't have been out there," Miller would say later. "I couldn't plant and I couldn't push off it. I thought I was killing us.
"[Coach] Larry [Bird] probably forgot about me and left me in," Miller added.
"There's no way I should play 42 minutes on a bad ankle. But some kind of way, you want to be involved in the last shot. But it wasn't the shot, it was the win."
After the first four games were split, the Bulls-Pacers series is now a best-of-three affair. The remaining games:
Date .. .. .. .. .. Site, ...Time
Tomorrow .. .. .. ..At Chi., 9 p.m.
Friday .. .. .. .. .At Ind., TBA
Sunday .. .. .. .. .At Chi., TBA
All games will be televised by NBC
Pub Date: 5/26/98