- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 23, 2004

INDIANAPOLIS — Reggie Miller did what Reggie Miller does.

After missing his first six shots, Miller drilled a 3-pointer with 31.7 seconds left to break the game’s final tie and lead Indiana past Detroit 78-74 last night in Game1 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals.

“You knew it was coming,” Indiana’s Jermaine O’Neal said. “He’s going to make one big-time shot, and he thrives on the biggest shot.”

Miller’s 13-year career has been marked by his clutch shooting, particularly in the playoffs and often from 3-point range. Fans of the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets have seen him make several devastating 3s, and now the folks in Detroit have experienced that same sickening Miller Time feeling.

“When he shot it, I pretty much knew he was going to make it,” said Detroit’s Richard Hamilton, who was defending Miller on the play. “The guy’s been making those shots all his career.”

With the score tied at 74-74, O’Neal missed a difficult turnaround jumper from the left baseline. Jeff Foster tipped the rebound to a teammate, and the Pacers had another chance.

Miller popped free off a screen set by Foster, took a pass from Jamaal Tinsley and buried his 3 to make it 77-74.

“All I need is to have a half-second of daylight,” Miller said. “Law of averages. You’re either a hero or goat. It’s a 50-50 shot, and I’ll take my chances. I practice that shot every day.”

Hamilton missed a 3-pointer for Detroit, and O’Neal was fouled on the rebound with 19.8 seconds left, but he missed both foul shots to give the Pistons another chance.

Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace both airballed 3-point attempts, and Miller made the second of two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to seal Indiana’s 14th consecutive home victory.

“There’s seven seconds on the clock, we’re in the penalty and we airball a 3 — we can’t win that way,” said Pistons coach Larry Brown, who feels his team has less offensive talent than an Indiana team that presents unique matchup problems.

Game 2 is tomorrow night.

Miller helped the Pacers overcome a fourth-quarter offensive drought in which they were held scoreless for a stretch of nearly four minutes by Detroit’s intense defense.

O’Neal led Indiana with 21 points and 14 rebounds, Ron Artest scored 17, Al Harrington had 14 and Tinsley 13.

Hamilton scored 23, Billups had 18 and Ben Wallace added 11 points and 22 rebounds for the Pistons, who got little (four points, five fouls, three turnovers) from Rasheed Wallace, whose only postgame comment was to guarantee a Game 2 victory.

Indiana won despite shooting 33 percent, getting outrebounded 47-41 and being held to 30 second-half points — 13 in the third quarter and 17 in the fourth.

“That’s pretty much what I was expecting,” O’Neal said. “There weren’t any surprises out there tonight.”

The Pacers were ahead 48-41 at halftime behind 14 points from Harrington and 13 from O’Neal. Billups and Hamilton accounted for 10 of Detroit’s 17 first-half field goals, with Rasheed Wallace going just 1-for-2 and grabbing only one rebound.

Wallace increased his foul and turnover totals in the third quarter without scoring a single point, but Detroit was able to reduce its deficit from seven to three over the course of the period despite getting just one basket from anyone other than Hamilton or Billups.

Hamilton scored the first four points of the fourth quarter as part of an 11-0 run that gave the Pistons a 64-61 lead. Indiana responded with an 11-4 run, including six points from O’Neal, to go ahead 72-68 with 5:19 left, but the Pacers then went nearly four minutes without a point.

In the end, though, Miller rendered that drought insignificant.

“That one time you kind of let up a little, he burns you. That’s why he is so special and has been so special,” Brown said.

Detroit blocked seven shots in the first quarter and made 63 percent of its attempts to open an early nine-point lead, forcing Indiana to miss 16 of 19 shots over one stretch.

But after Harrington entered the game and immediately began scoring over Corliss Williamson, the Pacers began to show some life. Harrington’s left-handed hook shot after a blown dunk by Ben Wallace completed a 15-4 run and gave Indiana a 41-35 lead.

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