INDIANAPOLIS -- Nothing quite captures the spirit of the Knicks-Pacers rivalry than the memory of one of Reggie Miller's greatest moments.
Madison Square Garden, May 7, 1995: Eight points in the final 8.9 seconds, six of them coming on 3-pointers right in front of Spike Lee's courtside seat.
It was the quintessential Miller moment, a Knick-killing sequence that remains so vivid in the minds of the Indiana Pacers that they were talking Saturday like it happened just yesterday.
"Watching Spike Lee, watching his face during that period after all the talking, it was good to watch his face," Mark Jackson recalled. "It was almost like he was watching the final edit of one of his movies."
Said Rik Smits: "If I had to pick one game, it would be the eight points in the last seconds of that game. I scored 34, but he came up big."
Nobody knew it at the time, but Miller's 8.9-second outburst would usher in a four-year period in which the Knicks would not be able to get out of the second round of the playoffs. Now New York is back in the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 1994, playing an Indiana team that has been this far in the playoffs three times, only to lose a Game 7 each time.
Game 1 in the best-of-7 series tips off at 5:30 p.m. EDT Sunday at Market Square Arena.
Miller himself wasn't talking about anything Saturday in keeping with his recent persona of being Mr. Anti-Inflammatory.
He gave no insight into his famous 8.9 seconds in 1995, his 25-point fourth-quarter against the Knicks in Game 5 of the 1994 conference finals, or his 3-pointer in New York during Game 4 of last season's second-round playoff series -- another shot from right in front of Lee's seat.
"They don't particularly like him too much in New York, and he probably feels the same way about this organization," the Knicks' Latrell Sprewell said. "But he obviously respects us, and this city respects him."
This will be the fifth time the teams have met in the playoffs in the past seven seasons. The Knicks beat Indiana 3-1 in the first round in 1993 and 4-3 in the conference finals in 1994. The Pacers defeated the Knicks 4-3 in the second round in 1995 and 4-1 in the second round in 1998.
"Indiana still has a lot of the same players, but we've changed personnel so much," said New York coach Jeff Van Gundy, who has been through all the Pacers-Knicks series either as an assistant coach or a head coach.
Van Gundy will bring a different version of the Knicks into Indianapolis, a team more inclined to run and gun than the old New York teams that would pound the ball into the low post and watch Patrick Ewing operate.
With a younger, more athletic second unit that includes Sprewell and Marcus Camby, the Knicks will try to force the tempo against a Pacers team that remains perfectly happy in a slow-down, half-court offense.
The Pacers won the season series 2-1, winning decisively in the two games at Market Square Arena and losing by one point in the one matchup at Madison Square Garden. But both those games have little meaning now.
The Knicks have turned things around over the past six weeks, finishing the regular season strong, beating Miami in the first round of the playoffs and then sweeping the Atlanta hawks in the second round.
The Pacers, meanwhile, have been nearly flawless, sweeping both Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the first two rounds of the playoffs as part of an 11-game winning streak they'll bring into Sunday's game.
Both teams have had plenty of rest heading into this series. Indiana hasn't played since last Sunday, while New York has been off since Monday night.
"Two or three days of rest would have been fine," Smits said. "This is getting old. It's been a long, long week."
So long, in fact, that the Pacers have had time to dissect the journalistic merits of a quote by Jackson -- he called the Pacers "the champs" -- that was turned into a back-page headline in one of the New York tabloids.
Jackson contends the comment was an innocuous one.
"Friends have faxed me stuff, and family members have called and told me what was going on," he said. "It gets old. It's sad, really.
"I really don't care," said Jackson who grew up in New York and started his career with the Knicks. "What are they going to do, boo me? They did that when I played there, so it doesn't make any difference."
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