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Pacers finally pack antifreeze

Indiana handles Heat in Miami, advances to Eastern finals

Posted: Wednesday, May 19, 2004

MIAMI The Indiana Pacers wanted desperately to avoid a pressure-packed Game 7 against the scrappy Miami Heat.

Ron Artest helped make sure they got their wish.

Artest hit several clutch shots and finished with 27 points to help the Pacers eliminate the Heat with a 73-70 victory in Game 6 on Tuesday night, snapping Miami's 18-game home winning streak.

The Pacers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2000 and the sixth time since 1994. Indiana will have three days off before playing Game 1 Saturday night against the winner of the New Jersey-Detroit series, which concludes Thursday.

''We learned a lot about ourselves tonight,'' Artest said. ''We had to weather a lot of storms. That's one tough arena. This is one of the toughest buildings to play in. Every road game is a test, but this was one of our biggest.''

The road victory allowed the Pacers to return home without needing to win a Game 7. Indiana had the NBA's best record in the regular season (61-21) and has won 15 of 16 at Conseco Fieldhouse including 13 in a row and all five in the postseason.

But the Pacers wanted nothing to do with one all-or-nothing game against the young and inexperienced Heat.

''We wanted to get this over with,'' Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley said. ''We definitely didn't want to get to a Game 7.''

Anthony Johnson made two free throws to give Indiana a 73-69 lead with 14.7 seconds to play. Lamar Odom then hit a free throw to make it a three-point game.

Artest, who had been 10-of-13 from the free throw line, missed two from the stripe with 9.1 seconds to play.

Rafer Alston, the Heat's best 3-point shooter, shot an airball from several feet beyond the arc, and Reggie Miller rebounded just before the final buzzer.

''That was disappointing,'' said Alston, who was 0-for-6 shooting and missed all four from 3-point range. ''Those were shots I knocked down all season. It was a bad night to not be able to make a shot.''

The Heat had a better chance to even the score with 26 seconds to play.

Rookie Dwyane Wade drove for a layup to cut the lead to 71-69 with 47 seconds to play, and a turnover game Miami the ball back with 26.1 seconds remaining.

But Eddie Jones shot an airball from close range, the ball going over the backboard.

''I tried to get it over Jermaine O'Neal, but I missed the shot,'' said Jones, who shot 6-of-21. ''Bottom line, I just missed the shot.''

Wade got the rebound, but the referees ruled he was falling out of bounds as he tried to call a timeout. They awarded the ball to Indiana, and Johnson sank his free throws.

Aside from missed shots, the Heat did everything they needed to do to win. They held O'Neal to seven points on 2-of-10 shooting after the All-Star forward had 88 points in the last three games. The Pacers also shot 32 percent and had 18 turnovers.

Wade finished with 24 points, his seventh postseason game with 20 or more points. David Robinson of San Antonio was the last rookie to have seven 20-point games in the same postseason.

''It was a tough win, although at times it was not pretty,'' Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. ''Miami is a strong-willed franchise and a strong-willed group of guys. It was clear what we needed to do. We needed to play an unbelievably good game defensively, and we needed to find a way to get the ball to the basket.''

Despite the loss, the Heat will consider this a successful season for getting this far. They started the season 0-7, prompting many to question Pat Riley's decision to hand his coaching duties over to Stan Van Gundy.

They improved to 25-36 in March under the first-year coach, but were still widely considered a long shot to make the postseason.

But the team that lost 57 games a year ago went 17-4 down the stretch to return to the postseason for the first time in three years. The Heat earned the fourth seed in the East and beat New Orleans in the first round.

They did it without winning a game on the road.

The same thing cost them against the Pacers. Indiana dominated its three home games, and after losing two in Miami, finally showed its defensive prowess in Game 6.

''There's a feeling that we're capable of doing just about anything when we play together,'' Tinsley said. ''We didn't play our best, but we stepped up and played as a team. That's what you have to do to win on the road in the playoffs.''

Notes: Caron Butler's steal in the first quarter was his 28th of the postseason, breaking the team record. Tim Hardaway had 27 steals in the 1997 playoffs. ... The Pacers had nine turnovers in the first quarter, the most ever by an opponent in any period against the Heat in the postseason. ... The list of celebrities attending the game included comedian Tommy Davidson, actor David Caruso, rapper Bow Wow, former NFL star Dan Marino and NBA vice president Stu Jackson.



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