- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2000

INDIANAPOLIS Theoretically, the Indiana Pacers could pull themselves out of the 3-1 ditch into which they have stumbled against the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. So they talk as if this series is not over, as if they will continue playing into next week in quest of their first NBA championship.
History, however, shines a much different light on their plight. No team in the history of the NBA Finals has rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a series. And only six times has a team done so in the playoffs.
Nonetheless, this does not seem to dampen the Pacers' approach to Friday's Game 6 at Conseco Fieldhouse. The thought of the Lakers celebrating a championship on the floor of Indiana's new $185 million basketball palace doesn't sit well with them.
"It can't happen it can't happen," forward Jalen Rose said, sounding as if he needed to convince himself of this as much as those gathered around him at Thursday's media session. "We're not going to quit. We're not going to be a team that rolls over and understands that they have three and we have one, and that they are going to find a way to take us out sooner or later. No, we're going to continue to prolong this thing. We're going to continue to play hard, make plays and see what happens."
What happened Wednesday ago was that the Lakers rode Kobe Bryant's legend-inspiring effort to a 120-118 overtime victory, ending the Pacers' bid to become the first team to win the three middle games of the 2-3-2 format since the league adopted this format in 1985.
Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 2:33 left in the game, which should have opened the door for the Pacers to even the series at 2-2. Instead, Bryant took over and turned overtime into his own magic show after sitting out Game 3 with a sprained ankle. He scored eight of the Lakers' 16 points in overtime, including a reverse tip-in of Brian Shaw's miss with 5.9 left for the final margin of victory.
It was a demoralizing loss for the Pacers. O'Neal has dominated them, averaging 38 points and 19.3 rebounds in the four games. But even with him banished to the bench, the Pacers were unable to put the Lakers away.
But instead of looking at the Lakers as being the better team, Indiana's current posture is that of losing Game 4 rather than being beaten by a better team that has seemed destined to win the title for most of the season.
"That's the way it's been since we started," Indiana coach Larry Bird said. "The Lakers were going to win in four; we didn't have a chance we understood that. Last night we played very well. We lost the ballgame.
"You know, our guys are going to come out and play, and we're at home. We feel like if we come out and give the effort like we did [Wednesday] night, get a couple of rebounds and make a couple more plays on the defensive end, we're going to win the ballgame."
Indiana's Reggie Miller has spent stretches of this series trying to find his motivation against the Lakers. He appeared to do so Wednesday when he scored for 35 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter. And the Pacers also got their first significant contribution from center Rik Smits, who had 24 points but is averaging just 11.5 for the series.
Conversely, the Pacers have to be demoralized that they shot 50 percent (42-for-84) against a good defensive team and still couldn't win on their home court. Still, Miller believes the Pacers can muster the effort needed to force a Game 6 in Los Angeles on Monday.
"We have a beating pulse," Miller said. "We've got a game on Friday, and we've got to find some way to extend the series."
If they don't, the Lakers will celebrate their first championship since 1988. Also, a loss would signal a downbeat apparent ending to Bird's three-year coaching career. He continues to say this is the last season he will coach, and none of the Pacers wants his season or theirs to end without a ring.
"This could be everyone's last game, but we're not concerned about that," guard Mark Jackson said. "Our concern right now is being down 3-1 to the Lakers and coming into this building and getting a win, and giving ourselves a chance to go to L.A. and do something very special."
And very unlikely.

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