Reggie Miller, the NBA's leading free throw shooter, made a pair of foul shots with two seconds left tonight, preventing the Indiana Pacers from sinking two games behind the New York Knicks in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Miller's dramatic free throws lifted the Pacers to an 88-86 victory at Market Square Arena, evening the series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks' plan was to not let the sharp-shooting Miller beat them. And for most of the night, they succeeded. Miller managed 16 points, but just eight after the first quarter.
"No one ever said it was going to be easy," Miller said.
Miller drew the foul on Chris Childs, the third Knick to foul out, while working one-on-one on the left side.
"Questionable call, but they were going back and forth all game," Miller said of the foul. "Right now, we're not playing very good basketball."
Said Childs: "Bad, bad, bad whistle."
The Pacers were in position to go ahead after Knicks guard Allan Houston lost possession and Indiana's Mark Jackson (17 points) grabbed the ball with 20 seconds remaining.
"It's disappointing -- at least you have to get a shot up," Houston said of the turnover. "Make or miss, at least you have to get a shot up."
Miller, whose 91.5 percent free throw shooting was the best in the NBA during the regular season, had missed his previous three attempts. For the game, Miller was 9 of 12 from the free throw line. He made only 3 of 11 field goal attempts.
"We need Reggie to score, there is no doubt about it," Pacers Coach Larry Bird said. "He went to the free throw line 12 times. But he was getting beaten up all night long."
After Miller's go-ahead free throws, the Knicks were in position to send the game into overtime, but Patrick Ewing missed an open jumper from about 15 feet as time expired.
"It was a good look," Knicks Coach Jeff Van Gundy said of Ewing's last-second attempt. "It just missed. We put our heart into the game. We just didn't get it done."
"It was a desperation play," said Ewing, who had given the Knicks an 86-84 lead with 45 seconds left with two free throws. "I got a good look. I thought I was going to make it."
In a wild final minute, the Pacers knotted the game at 86 on Antonio Davis's layup. On the play, Davis leaned into Marcus Camby, who was called for the foul. But Davis missed the free throw.
Poor foul shooting marred the Pacers' evening. Indiana, the best free throw shooting team during the regular season, connected on just 29 of 47 tonight.
"When you miss early, sometimes it becomes contagious," Bird said of the poor performance from the line. "I felt like we won it. We battled back. We made a lot of mistakes. We missed a lot of free throws."
The first half was a different story. The inspired Pacers built a 17-point lead and led 57-46 at halftime. In that half, New York committed 12 turnovers.
Larry Johnson led the Knicks with 22 points, while Houston and Latrell Sprewell finished with 15 each.
The Knicks used a 14-1 run at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to take their first lead, 73-71, on Chris Dudley's put-back of Childs's missed jumper. Moments earlier, Childs had tied the game on a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter.
Houston's 10-foot jumper gave New York a 78-72 lead, but the Pacers went on a nine-point run that gave them the lead and set up the dramatic ending.
"My main focus was -- as long as the game was close -- I knew I'd get the ball in the last minute," Miller said. "As long as you make the last one, that's all that matters."
CAPTION: Knicks' Marcus Camby (23) grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds, but drops the ball here against Pacers' Reggie Miller, who made winning free throws.