INDIANAPOLIS -- Back home in Indiana, the Pacers turned into a different team.
They pushed, the Lakers didn't push back. They attacked, the Lakers retreated. They were desperate, the Lakers were not.
Playing with a confidence bordering on cockiness and ditching their collective inferiority complex, the Indiana Pacers earned themselves some breathing room Sunday night. Getting 33 points and one angry glance from Reggie Miller, 21 points from Jalen Rose and a number of timely shots from Travis Best, they defeated Los Angeles 100-91 in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.
''Yeah, these guys were very emotional tonight,'' Pacers coach Larry Bird said. ''They played with heart today, they battled today, they really took it serious.''
Refusing to be pushovers and eager to get in the Lakers' faces, the Pacers had a brazen quality that had been missing in Games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. Instead, they took a double-digit lead early, went ahead by as many as 18 and shrugged off the Lakers' rally in the fourth to cut their deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Miller all but sealed the victory by making two free throws with 2:02 left, casting an angry stare at Lakers coach Phil Jackson as he turned upcourt. After Ron Harper hit a 3-pointer to make it a three-point game with 14.8 seconds left, Miller calmly made two from the line -- sans the stare this time, but with an emphatic side-to-side shake of his head -- to make it 96-91.
''By no means did we think it was over being down two-zip, and I'm glad the country knows it now,'' Indiana's Mark Jackson said.
Best had 14 points and Austin Croshere added 12 for the Pacers, who were not afraid to confront the Lakers -- whether it be with flagrant fouls, dirty looks or timely shots.
Despite not making a fourth-quarter field goal for the third straight game, Miller had his best game of the series as he shot 11-for-22, played 46 of a possible 48 minutes and showed some of the brazen attitude and feistiness that so defines his game.
''I can't play quiet. There's no way,'' he said. ''I play on emotion and excitement, and it's always been that way.
''If we were down 3-0, you could pretty much have written us off.''
Game 4 is Wednesday night, and by then the Lakers should have Kobe Bryant back in the lineup. He never showed his face, staying in the locker room for the entire game after testing his sprained left ankle and deciding not to play.
The Lakers missed Bryant's offense, getting just six points from Brian Shaw, his replacement in the starting lineup.
''We knew they were shorthanded, and it wasn't the real Laker team because Kobe wasn't out there,'' Miller said.
Shaquille O'Neal followed up his 43-point Game 1 and 40-point Game 2 with a 33-point, 13-rebound performance, but he went just 3-for-13 at the line, missing six of seven free throws in the fourth quarter.
Ron Harper added 14 points, and Robert 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. Los Angeles also committed 17 turnovers.
''It's not really anything they did. We shot ourselves in the foot,'' O'Neal said. ''We made a lot of silly mistakes. They just wanted it more, They just played a little harder.''
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 the Pacers, who looked meek and humble on the road. Jackson took pleasure in baiting the Lakers and showboating, Rose and Croshere wore their tough-guy faces when needed and Indiana seemed to get under the skin of the Lakers.
''They weren't asking where the best restaurants were,'' Lakers forward Rick Fox said of the Pacers' penchant for extracurricular talking.
If the Lakers want to do something about it, they'll have to avoid the kind of slow start that allowed the Pacers to get into a comfort zone so early.
Shaw wasn't shy about shooting, taking five of the Lakers' first 12 attempts while O'Neal had just one.
Miller, after throwing the ball away and dribbling it off his foot and out of bounds in the first few minutes, hit a 3-pointer on the fast break for a 17-10 lead. A jump hook by Rik Smits gave Indiana its first double-digit lead, 23-12.
Miller kept going into the air trying to draw fouls, repeatedly getting upset when the refs wouldn't call them. He finally got a whistle going for a layup over O'Neal, and his free throw for a three-point play made it 30-19.
The Lakers started going more to O'Neal in the second quarter but never developed much of a rhythm, while Indiana used its superiority on the boards to widen its lead.
A tip-in by Dale Davis on Indiana's seventh offensive rebound made it 42-27 before Los Angeles had an 10-2 run to pull within seven. Best took the momentum right back by hitting two jumpers and making a steal that led to a layup by Miller, and Rose made it 53-39 with 4.9 seconds left before the half on a steal, layup and foul shot.
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 3-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 3-pointer as the crowd yelled his nickname -- ''Smooth'' -- while the ball was in mid-flight.
The Lakers answered with four straight points before Miller slammed the door, hitting a jumper before coming up with another steal and then pulling up for a 3-pointer, thrusting both hands in the air and playing to the crowd, for a 76-58 lead.
''That's Reggie. He uses that stuff as energy,'' Lakers center John Salley said. ''Reggie did his thing, but we shot ourselves in the foot.''
Notes: Davis had two points and 12 rebounds before fouling out with 1:50 left. ... Toronto center Antonio Davis, traded from Indiana to the Raptors last summer, sat in a courtside seat and received a rousing ovation when introduced during a first-quarter timeout. ... After reviewing videotape of Game 2, the league rescinded the flagrant foul called on O'Neal midway through the fourth quarter.
Peninsula Clarion ©2015. All Rights Reserved.