Pacers 78, Pistons 74
Reggie Miller, one of the best shooters in NBA history, had not made a basket all game, a stunning development that had the Detroit Pistons understandably concerned late in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. With 31 seconds left, Miller showed exactly why Detroit needed to be worried, breaking a tie with another clutch three-pointer in a 17-year career filled with them, this one the decisive field goal in a 78-74 Indiana victory before a packed Conseco Fieldhouse.
The shot, from the right wing, extended the Pacers' home winning streak to 14. Game 2 is here Monday night, and at least one Piston said the streak will end then.
"They will not win Game 2," said Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, who scored just four points in 36 minutes. "You can quote me on the front page, on the back page, anywhere you want. They will not win Game 2. They will not win Game 2. They will not win Game 2. That's it."
Miller said his clutch shot was just a matter of time.
"Law of averages," said Miller, who missed his first six shots, including two three-pointers. "I missed six. Either you're going to be the hero or you're going to be the goat. That's how I look at it. It's a 50-50 shot. I feel I can hit the shot and seize the moment. My job description is to play defense and hit big shots. It's a very simple job description."
Pistons guard Richard Hamilton (game-high 23 points) had done a decent job of shadowing Miller all night, but he said he was banged extra hard by center Jeff Foster on the screen that freed Miller at the end.
"That last possession, he had me going one way and I tried to come off the screen and when he shot it, I pretty much knew he was going to make it. Once I got hit and he had a wide-open look. . . . He doesn't miss them."
The series, expected to be a defensive affair, got off to a surprisingly offensive start, when the teams combined for an 89-point first half defined by free-flowing sets and strong shooting. In the second half, both team's stingy defenses took over, however, and the game tightened up, setting the stage for Miller.
"We've all seen it. He's the best I've ever seen. It doesn't matter how many shots he takes or what his field goal percentage is. He never stops working and he takes responsibility," Pistons Coach Larry Brown said. Brown would know -- he coached Miller in Indiana from 1993 to '97.
With the crowd in a frenzy after Miller's basket, Detroit had a chance to tie but Hamilton's three-pointer went in and out and was rebounded by Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal, who was fouled. O'Neal missed both free throws, giving the Pistons 20 more seconds to send the game into overtime. Chauncey Billups misfired on a three-pointer, as did Wallace, who grabbed Billups's miss.
Miller grabbed Wallace's errant shot and, after being fouled, missed the first of two free throws to "prolong the agony," Brown said. Miller sealed the victory by making the second foul shot.
"Always expect Reggie to get the ball at the end, he's the best clutch player to ever play the game," said Pistons center Ben Wallace (11 points, game-high 22 rebounds, game-high five blocks). "You've got to figure coming down the stretch he's going to put that dagger in you."
O'Neal led the Pacers with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Forward Ron Artest had 17 points on 6-of-23 shooting. Backup forward Al Harrington added 14 points. Billups scored 18 points for the Pistons. Forward Rasheed Wallace, bothered by a sore left foot, managed just four points on 1-of-7 shooting.
The Pistons moved ahead 74-72 with 1 minute 53 seconds left on a three-pointer by Tayshaun Prince. It was the only field goal Detroit made in the final 7:44.
"We've got to make the right plays down the stretch," Ben Wallace said. "We can't afford to jack up quick three-pointers and think we're going to give ourselves a chance to win the game. They're playing team basketball. We got a little carried away and we tried to win it ourselves instead of playing team basketball."