PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference first round; tied 1-1.
Reggie Miller has thrived on playoff pressure throughout his career, and it seems his last postseason run will be no different.
Thanks to a classic performance by the rejuvenated Miller, the Indiana Pacers bring home-court advantage back to Conseco Fieldhouse with them as they face the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of their first-round series.
Miller quieted the crowd at the FleetCenter in Boston with 28 points, including a game-clinching basket in the closing seconds, and the Pacers tied the best-of-seven series with an 82-79 victory Monday.
Indiana can now take the series by winning its three home games, while Boston needs to steal a win on the road.
Facing the possibility of playing in his final postseason series, the 39-year-old Miller showed he’s still capable of clutch playoff performances. Pacers forward Stephen Jackson believes taunting Celtics fans sparked Miller, who has said that this will be his final season. Miller had only seven points in a 102-82 Pacers loss Saturday.
“When I played against him, I never said anything to Reggie because once you upset him, he’s going to wake up and drain five straight 3s,” Jackson said. “That woke him up, and we needed Reggie to have the type of game he did.”
Miller, who had averaged just 12.6 points on 30 percent shooting in his previous five games, may have also been inspired by the yapping with Celtics rookie Tony Allen, who guarded the 18-year veteran for most of the night. Allen ended up with a technical foul for taunting Miller after a dunk, Miller’s last basket of the night.
“He’s a hard-nosed player,” Miller said of Allen. “I really respect the way he plays out on the court. I’m just trying to play hard and finish my tenure here. Sometimes you just letting sleeping dogs lie. I haven’t talked trash in six or seven years in a playoff series. But I like young players who play hard, and he is one of them.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, however, didn’t let sleeping dogs lie Wednesday, when he complained about what he perceives to be favorable calls for the Pacers shooting guard.
“You hope the officials don’t keep falling for the flops, the grabs, the holds, the kicks,” Rivers said after practice. “Reggie’s a good player, but it’s amazing what he gets away with. That’s a concern for us. He’s on a farewell tour and you’re worried about the sympathy calls.”
Boston’s Paul Pierce, though, thinks the problem in Game 2 was the Celtics’ defense on Miller.
“As a scorer, once you hit your first couple of shots, then it’s going to be tough to stop you the whole night,” Pierce said. “We have to do a better job finding him in transition, be a little bit more physical, not let him catch the ball as easy as he did.”
Pierce led the Celtics with 33 points, but only three came in the fourth quarter. Walker added 19 points and seven rebounds for Boston, but the rest of the Celtics shot 26 percent (9-for-34) from the field for 27 points.
Boston’s bench has been a factor in the series. The Celtics’ reserves outscored Indiana’s 40-32 in the Game 1 win, and 14-6 in Game 2.
Boston has played solid defense in the series, holding Indiana to 82 points per game and 38 percent shooting. The Celtics are giving up 18 fewer points per game than they did in the regular season.
“Game 1 we had six guys in double figures,” Pierce said. “We have to do a better effort of spreading the ball around. We knew after Game 1 that they were going to come back with a better effort, and that this was a long series. It’s still a long series. Now our goal is to go out to Indiana, get one, possibly two, and try to come back on them and close it.”
Game 4 is Saturday in Indianapolis.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Celtics - 3rd seed. Pacers - 6th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 22.5 ppg and 8.0 rpg; Payton, 5.5 apg. Pacers - Jackson, 22.5 ppg; Davis, 6.5 rpg; Johnson, 6.0 apg.