INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana Pacers coach Larry Bird went into last night's Game 3 of the NBA Finals with the intention of playing his stars, Reggie Miller and Jalen Rose, the entire game.
Late in the third quarter, however, Rose found himself on the bench resting, and minutes later, Miller was there for a brief stint, meaning Bird had the leeway to alter his plan.
Credit the Pacers, who, with a team effort, maintained a double-digit lead throughout most of their 100-91victory over the Los Angeles Lakers before 18,345at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Miller scored 33points and Rose scored 21, but almost the entire Pacers roster contributed either with rebounding and defense (Dale Davis), big shots (Travis Best) or solid all-around games (Austin Croshere).
The Pacers are now very much alive, trailing 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 Wednesday night.
"If we were down 3-0, you could pretty much have written us off," Miller said.
Said Rose: "we had to take it personaly when we lose. We came out focused in this game.
"They are a team just like us. They haven't won a championship. Therefore, if you put pressure on them, put them down by 10 points, I feel like we are in good shape."
The Lakers, playing without All-Star guard Kobe Bryant, cut the Pacers' lead to five with five minutes left. They had a chance to get within four with 1:50 left, but Shaquille O'Neal missed two free-throw attempts, indicative of the type of night it was for the league's Most Valuable Player from the foul line.
O'Neal followed up his 43-point Game 1 and 40-point Game 2 with a 33-point, 13-rebound performance last night, but he went just 3-for-13 at the foul line, missing six of seven attempts in the fourth quarter.
"We knew they were short-handed, and it wasn't the real Laker team because Kobe wasn't out there," Miller said. "We needed a gutty effort from everyone and we got it. I think the key to the game was we got into the game quickly, and we did a good job of moving the basketball around our offense."
Said Rose: "We did a lot of things, we wanted to get down on Shaq a little bit earlier and a little bit stronger, and we understand we're a better team at home. We've got a lot of guys that feed off of this crowd, and we get a lot more energy from that. We understood that today's game was going to be do or die and we made it happen."
Third option Glen Rice was able to provide much help, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson showed no confidence in so-called third option Glen Rice, who did not play much in the fourth quarter. Rice, who finished with seven points, in no way made up for the loss of Bryant.
Bryant's absence was felt by the Lakers midway through the first quarter when Indiana went on a 15-4 run.
Without Bryant, by far the team's most creative player and a key offensive answer to when teams collapse on O'Neal, the Lakers had trouble scoring and trailed 23-15 after one quarter.
Bryant, who is day-to-day, also was missed on the defensive end, and Indiana's Miller took advantage. Miller had been criticized for a 1-for-16 shooting performance in Game 1, followed by a disappearing act in the fourth quarter of Game 2.
But he, along with center Rik Smits and Rose, continued a trend in the first half of playing much better at Conseco Fieldhouse than on the road. Indiana thrived off a raucous crowd last night.
Ron Harper and Robert Horry were able to provide some scoring, but without Bryant, the Lakers could not find someone who could consistently provide points by driving the ball to the basket or hitting outside shots.
Miller made seven of 14 first-half shots for 16 points. He made only one of four three-pointers, but that one he hit sent the crowd into its usual frenzy when three's start falling for the Pacers.
Rose added 11, and Davis pulled down nine rebounds in the first half. All of the starters contributed for the Pacers, and most importantly, Smits committed only one foul in the half.
Indiana used the emotion from the crowd to force the Lakers into nine first-half turnovers, which helped maintain the Pacers' double-digit lead throughout the second quarter.
Outside of O'Neal, who scored 15 points, the Lakers could not find another consistent scorer. Backup forward Robert Horry scored back-to-back baskets late in the period, but two turnovers late in the second period turned a nine-point deficit into 14.
Rice, thought to be the third option but quiet in the first half, hit a late three to close the Indiana lead to 53-42 at the half.
Ron Harper added 14 points, and Horry and Derek Fisher had 10 apiece for the Lakers, who shot just 8-for-19 at the foul line and were outrebounded badly in the first half when Indiana took control for good.
After the Lakers pulled within five points early in the third, Indiana used a 23-8 run to reassert command. And after the Lakers got their deficit back down to three late in the fourth, the Pacers nonchalantly closed them out.
It was quite a change of character for a Pacers team that looked meek and humble on the road. Mark Jackson took pleasure in baiting the Lakers and showboating, Rose and Croshere wore their tough-guy faces when needed and the entire Indiana mentality seemed to get under the skin of the Lakers, especially Jackson.
The Pacers committed five fouls in the first 2:55 of the third quarter and missed their first six shots, allowing the Lakers to pull to 55-50. But Rose hit a jumper, Miller hit a tough bank shot, Rose hit a jumper on the break and Jackson drilled a three-pointer to quickly restore the 12-point lead.
Rather than rest after restoring that comfortable advantage, the Pacers kept pouring it on.
Rose had a steal and dunk, and Sam Perkins hit a three-pointer as the crowd yelled his nickname - "Smooth" - while the ball was in mid-flight.