Veteran Pacers fans remember the legendary playoff moments in the franchise's history. Such as the games that won championships in the ABA, Reggie Miller's moments in Madison Square Garden, or Travis Best's three-pointer that saved the final game of the first-round series with Milwaukee and sparked the trip to the NBA Finals in 2000.
Beneath the veneer of the obvious, though, there are equally impressive performances and equally dramatic games that would be remembered just as clearly if the timing had been more favorable – perhaps if they had come in the close-out game of a series, or in a later series, or, in the case of the ABA, in a modern media environment.
They are the Hidden Gems of the Pacers' playoff history. Here, in chronological order, are 10 games, or moments, that deserve to have the dust blown away so they can live again in our memories.
5. 1994 First Round, Game 1
Date: April 28, 1994 Result: Pacers 89, Orlando 88/>
The Pacers were on a down cycle when they entered the NBA in 1976, and their plight was exacerbated by their financially inadequate ownership and the vicious toll they had paid to cross over from the ABA. So, their fans couldn't possibly have known that when the team eliminated Denver in the Western Division finals in 1975 that it would be another 19 seasons – nineteen! – before the franchise would win another postseason series.
Younger fans might think they've experienced some droughts in postseason participation, but they've lived through nothing resembling that spirit-sapping Sahara.
Byron Scott changed all that with a flick of the wrist that might well be the most important shot in the franchise's NBA history. It might be too well-known among veteran fans to truly qualify as a Hidden Gem, but it deserves retelling nonetheless.
The Pacers were 4-17 in NBA playoff games before the 1993-94 season, but fans were allowing themselves to be optimistic heading into the first-round series with Orlando. Larry Brown's first season as coach had started 1-6 and 16-23, but the players had adapted to his demanding ways and finished 47-35. An eight-game winning streak to end the season added a flourishing touch.
The Magic, however, had finished 50-32 and were led by two emerging superstars, second-year center Shaquille O'Neal and rookie point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway. They had homecourt advantage, but the Pacers had more experience, from both their roster and its head coach.
Scott, who had turned 33 a month before the playoffs began, brought a championship pedigree from his 10 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, and had instilled upgraded confidence in his new teammates after joining the Pacers 16 games into the season. During his first meeting with them, he had declared, “You guys – we – could be in the Eastern Conference Finals. The number one thing we have to do is believe we can get there and then start playing like we can.”
Despite their late regular season success, the Pacers took awhile to warm up to their playoff experience. They trailed by 17 points late in the second quarter and by eight entering the fourth period. They kept battling, but O'Neal's tip-in of a Donald Royal miss with 25.7 seconds left gave Orlando an 88-86 lead. The Pacers got shots from Rik Smits, Derrick McKey and Reggie Miller on the next possession, and then got yet another opportunity when Dale Davis rebounded Miller's missed three. He passed out to Scott, who passed to Miller, who drove into the lane and drew the attention of Scott's defender, Nick Anderson, and kicked out a pass on the right wing to an open Scott, who drained the game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds left.
Imagine that. Miller assisting on a game-winning 3-pointer.
“Reggie made a great play,” Brown said. “He's been doing this all year. As great a shooter as he is, he's very unselfish. Byron made a big shot, but I guess he's made big shots before.”
Miller still scored 24 points, 18 in the second half. The Pacers' blue collar point guard, Haywoode Workman, played Hardaway to a standoff, picking up 11 assists and seven steals. But Scott delivered the knockout punch that gave the Pacers their first lead in an NBA playoff series.
“Forget overtime,” he said. “I wanted to win it or lose it.”
The Pacers went on to prove Scott's early-season prediction correct. They swept Orlando, eliminated Atlanta in the second round and took the Knicks to seven games in the conference finals – and would go on to reach the conference finals in five of the next seven seasons.
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