INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Miller cast an annoyed look out of the corner of his eye when somebody dared to ask if he had won this game for his coach.
''I'm doing this for myself,'' Miller said. ''This could have been my last game.''
It could have been Larry Bird's last game as a coach, too, but Miller made sure it wasn't with the highest-scoring playoff game of his career.
Miller scored 41 points, including 18 in the fourth quarter, and Travis Best hit the biggest shot of the game, a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left, as the Indiana Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 96-95 Thursday night in Game 5 of their first-round series.
The victory extended the coaching career of Bird, who insists he will leave the profession at the conclusion of this season.
''I never thought about it,'' Bird said. ''The game was too good. It was a great playoff game. I was just trying to win.''
The Pacers avoided becoming just the third No. 1 seed to be knocked off in the best-of-five first round and moved on to a second-round series against Philadelphia beginning Saturday.
It wouldn't have happened without Miller, who was unstoppable for a huge stretch of the fourth quarter, or without Best, who shook off a 2-for-14 start to hit the go-ahead basket.
Milwaukee had a chance to win it after Jalen Rose missed two foul shots with 1.4 seconds left, but Ray Allen could only manage an off-balance 3-pointer from about 28 feet that hit the top of the backboard at the final buzzer.
Bird spent much of the game on his feet in front of the bench, never wandering far as he called out offensive plays and encouraged his team.
He said before the game that he was feeling the kind of nervousness that he thrived on as a player.
''I saw a little more emotion than normal because it was such a big game,'' assistant coach Rick Carlisle said. ''When he gets up and claps three times, that's a big deal. Normally he's pretty stoic out there.''
Miller got into a shooting groove and scored 14 points in less than five minutes midway through the fourth quarter, a burst that ended with a corner jumper from a tough angle for an 89-87 lead with five minutes left.
The Bucks scored the next five points as Miller stopped shooting and decided to pass to open teammates. Best took several of those shots and missed them all, but the Pacers can only be thankful he never lost the nerve to keep hoisting them up.
''I heard people in the stands yelling to pass the ball, but they're not the ones out there,'' Best said. ''To be out there with Reggie the way he was playing, you just don't know when it will cave in. Even though I was missing, I always felt the next one would go in.''
With Milwaukee leading 92-90, Miller got the ball isolated outside the 3-point arc and stared defender Tim Thomas directly in the eyes before quickly releasing a shot that swished for a 93-92 lead.
''He made it happen. He played a phenomenal game,'' Bird said. ''Down the stretch Reggie made all the shots.''
A 20-footer by Thomas with 50 seconds left gave the Bucks a 94-93 lead.
Best and Davis missed shots before the ball went out of bounds off Milwaukee, giving the Pacers a full 24-second clock with 29 seconds left on the game clock. Best put up a quick shot and missed, but the Pacers grabbed another offensive rebound and found Best alone in the corner for a 3-pointer that made it 96-94 with 16 seconds left.
Allen then missed on a drive and Ervin Johnson was fouled grabbing the offensive rebound, but he missed the first foul shot with 6.2 seconds remaining before making the second. The Pacers inbounded quickly and ran almost five seconds off the clock before the Bucks could foul, which turned out to be huge when Allen had to rush the final shot of the game.
''The building was hot and alive, and we probably couldn't get enough information verbally to Thomas (that we needed to foul immediately),'' Milwaukee coach George Karl said. ''If we had rebounded the ball better in key moments we'd have been a lot happier.''
Miller surpassed his previous career playoff-high of 39 reached twice before.
Comparing it to some of his famous playoff performances against the New York Knicks, Miller said this was different.
''Those were later in the playoffs, second round and conference finals,'' Miller said, ''but for the sense of urgency and desperation this team was facing, hopefully it'll be a wake-up call and we can advance to our ultimate goal -- the finals.''
Sam Cassell, who fouled out with 2:30 remaining, led Milwaukee with 22 points. Allen and Thomas each added 18 for the Bucks, who were looking for the franchise's first playoff series victory in 11 years.
The Pacers avoided the type of first-quarter meltdown that doomed them in Games 2 and 4, but it took plenty of work just to keep up with the Bucks as Milwaukee made 13 of its first 20 shots to take a 30-25 lead after one quarter.
Indiana finished the first half with a 7-0 run to trail 47-46, and Miller picked up four fouls in the first 10 minutes of the third quarter.
Milwaukee closed the quarter with a 7-2 run to trail 71-70 entering the fourth. The Bucks scored the first five points of the final quarter, prompting Bird to send Miller back into the game with 9:52 left.
Notes: The Pacers sold the final 900 tickets during the day Thursday for their 44th sellout. ... Bird's record in elimination games improved to 2-2. Karl dropped to 11-5 in first-round elimination games. ... The Pacers have won 20 straight against teams that beat them in their previous meeting.
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