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.
1. 1969 ABA Eastern Conference First-Round Series, Game 2
Date: April 9, 1969 Result: Pacers 120, Kentucky 115/>
The Pacers and Kentucky Colonels “enjoyed” an intense I-65 rivalry in the ABA days, busing back and forth to play one another 27 times in playoff games. It would have been more often, but officials from the two teams maneuvered to move the Pacers to the Western Division after the 1969-70 season so they wouldn't butt heads until the finals.
It was probably a good thing. Had they met more often, one can only guess at the havoc that would have been wreaked.
The Pacers lost the final game of their 1968-69 regular season in Kentucky, and then lost their playoff opener to the Colonels six days later at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. So, they were a desperate team when they met again the following night, on April 9. They pulled out a 120-115 victory – the first postseason win in franchise history – and one that, according to the Indianapolis Star, featured the “wildest Coliseum brawl since the days of Floyd Patterson.”
The game was delayed for about five minutes when, with 4:17 left, Colonels center Jim Caldwell gave a hard foul to Mel Daniels as he drove to the basket. Daniels retaliated with an elbow, the two squared off, and the benches cleared. The Pacers' backup center, George Peeples, was one of the first to arrive, and landed a punch on Caldwell. Daniels got in a clean shot of his own, which was captured in a photograph in the following day's Star. The afternoon News ran another close-up shot of the melee. The brawl eventually extended to the stands on the south end of the court, and might have involved some fans according to the newspaper accounts.
“It came to the point where I got tired of being pushed by Caldwell,” Daniels said after the game. “He's been doing it all season.”
Just to prove how differently fights were regarded in those days, nobody was ejected from the game. Daniels wasn't even assessed a technical foul, a sore point with the Colonels afterward. Peeples and Caldwell were charged with technicals, though, and the Pacers gained a point as a result, as Freddie Lewis hit his free throw and Darrel Carrier missed his.
The fight also energized the Pacers, who managed to close out the victory despite the Colonels hitting 15-of-21 shots in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight the guys really stuck together,” said backup guard Bobby Joe Hooper, who injured his left hand in the brawl. “Maybe the fight was what we needed.”
Roger Brown turned in the first of what would become almost routine clutch playoff performances by scoring 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter. Lewis, playing all 48 minutes, scored 28 points, and Bob Netolicky had 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Kentucky came back to win the next two games to take a 3-1 lead, but the Pacers rallied to win the final three games of the series, each one of them by at least nine points. The Game 7 victory at the Coliseum was witnessed by a record crowd, 11,005. The players received a one-minute standing ovation at the start of the game and coach Slick Leonard was carried off the court by his players at the end.
That victory sent the Pacers to a second-round series with Miami, but the Coliseum was already booked for other events. So the first two home games were played at Anderson High School's WigWam, and the fifth game, in which the Pacers wrapped up the series, was played at Indiana Central (now the University of Indianapolis).
The Pacers went on to play Oakland for the ABA title, but lost that series 4-1. They were a year away from being ready to win a championship, but that “hard-fought” victory over the Colonels on April 9 had established the mindset that would bring three of them.
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