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.
2. 1970 ABA Finals, Game 5
Date: May 23, 1970 Result: Los Angeles 117, Pacers 113 (OT) />
This loss to the Los Angeles Stars was made palatable – even humorous – by the games that preceded and followed it. It also taught some important lessons.
The prelude featured Brown's greatest playoff game, a 53-point effort in Los Angeles that still stands as the franchise's postseason scoring record. Brown hit 18-of-29 shots in that game, which the Pacers won 142-120. Brown gave credit to two factors for his historic effort: a game of miniature golf earlier in the day that helped him relax, and a new pair of $80 blue adidas shoes. “They enabled me to stop and start well,” he said. “I went around all of 'em real easy.”
That victory sent the Pacers home with a 3-1 lead in the series, where it presumably would wrap up their first title before their adoring fans. But they were new to this sort of thing at the time, and presumed too much.
Pat Vidan, the starter for the Indianapolis 500, greeted the team's commercial flight when it landed in Indianapolis the next day by waving a white flag, symbolic of one more “lap” to go before it reached the finish line. Champagne was put on ice in the locker room to be swigged and poured over heads during the postgame celebration.
Game 5, at 3 p.m. on a Saturday, was televised nationally by CBS, but blacked out in Indiana. The network even placed a camera – a “color” camera, a newspaper account pointed out – in the locker room to record the revelry. A crowd of 10,548 turned its back on the qualifications going on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to join the party.
But it all backfired. The Pacers started slowly, and couldn't quite catch up. Brown, who finished with 39 points, could have hit a game-winner at the buzzer in regulation, but his short jumper went in and out and then rolled around the rim before falling out, forcing overtime.
“We were just too cautious. Too cautious,” Brown said later.
The loss didn't dampen Leonard's spirit, however. Showing the confidence that made him a Hall of Fame coach, he put out a prediction. “We will see what they do Monday night, and if we don't win Monday we'll win Tuesday,” he said. “The Indiana Pacers will win the ABA title, you can be sure of that.”
Imagine a coach saying that today.
And imagine a player going water skiing the day before such a big game. Which leads us to the reason this game, although a loss, is such a part of Pacers' folklore.
Bob Netolicky, the team's All-Star forward, took advantage of the warm weather to go water skiing with friends on Morse Reservoir. He showed up for the game with a sunburn and sore muscles in his upper body. He hit just 7-of-22 shots, leaving most of his shots short, although he did grab 18 rebounds.
Maybe it was just as well. The series went back to L.A. for Game 6, enabling Brown to extend his career's peak moment. He scored 45 more points in a 111-107 win that brought the franchise's first ABA title.
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