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.
6. 1998 Second Round, Game 5
Date: May 13, 1998 Result: Pacers 99, New York 88/>
It speaks to the dramatic quality of all those Pacers-Knicks playoff series between 1994 and 2000 that a triple-double in the close-out game of a series can get lost in the madness.
The Pacers had little trouble with the Knicks in 1998, dispatching them in five games to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals against Chicago, with whom they engaged in an epic seven-game series. But the series with New York was as eventful as it was short. After the Pacers won the first two games in Indy comfortably, they lost Game 3 at Madison Square Garden 83-76. Mark Jackson got a little carried away with his shimmying and shaking in that game as he tried to egg on the Knicks fans, which drew an on-the-record complaint from Pacers coach Larry Bird afterward.
Jackson kept his showboat docked for Game 4, which turned out to be the game that inspired the Reggie Miller 30 for 30 ESPN documentary. That was the game in which the Pacers came back from a seven-point deficit with 3 ½ minutes left to force overtime when Miller hit a three-pointer from the left wing off an offensive rebound and Jackson's swing pass. Perhaps you've seen the photograph of Miller rising up to release the shot while Knicks fans in the background gasp and hold their hands to their heads, a collective “Oh, no!” moment of sheer terror. They knew what was likely coming and Miller delivered, as he tended to do in the Garden. The Pacers went on to win the game by a point in the overtime session to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
Paul Sancya's photo in the Indianapolis Star perfectly captured the moment, and was made into a sponsored poster that was later included in the newspaper. Miller asked for his own print, and in turn signed one for Sancya, writing something to the effect that Sancya had taken the second-best shot of the day. Years later, the photo reminded documentary filmmaker Dan Klores of the Pacers-Knicks rivalry and inspired him to create the Winning Time documentary.
No wonder Game 5 back at Market Square Arena seemed nearly anticlimactic. Still, it should be remembered if nothing else for the first postseason triple-double in franchise history. Jackson, who loved playing against the team that had drafted him and then traded him across the country to the Los Angeles Clippers, dumped 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 13 assists on the Knicks in a 99-88 victory.
The series done, he was free to dance and jiggle to his heart's delight.
The Star's game report brilliantly called it “a near-perfect performance at the perfect time against the perfect opponent.” Oh, wait, I was the one who wrote that. Never mind. Let's go with the analysis of Bird, who called it “amazing,” “spectacular” and “magnificent” at various points in his postgame conversation with reporters.
Only one Pacers player has managed a postseason triple-double since then. Paul George had 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists last season against Atlanta.
It was Jackson's 15th career triple-double, but undoubtedly his most meaningful. It was so perfect, in fact, that it nearly seemed fictional.
Have you ever had a game like that? he was asked afterward.
“Yeah,” he said. “Playing Sega Genesis with my son.”
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