PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference finals; Pacers lead 1-0.
It’s risky to guarantee a victory when facing Reggie Miller in the playoffs.
Miller proved again why he has a reputation as being one of the most clutch players in postseason history, drilling a 3-pointer with 31.7 seconds left in a 78-74 Pacers win Saturday in Game 1. After the game, Wallace promised a Pistons victory in Game 2.
“I’m guaranteeing Game 2,” Wallace said. “That’s the bottom line and that’s all I’m saying. They will not win Game 2 and you heard that from me. Put it front page, back page, middle of the page. They will not win Game 2.”
Wallace was never a factor Saturday, scoring just four points on 1-for-7 shooting. Expected to be huge on the boards and at the defensive end, Wallace grabbed just seven rebounds and was dominated by Jermaine O’Neal on defense.
Miller, meanwhile, made the key basket after missing his first six shots.
“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.
With the score tied at 74, Indiana’s 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.”
O’Neal score 21 points and grab 14 rebounds, many of which came over Wallace.
Wallace ended a dismal showing with an even worse shot. With the Pistons trailing 77-74 and less than 10 seconds remaining, he had the ball in the corner and the chance to tie the game. His shot wasn’t even close. Miller corralled the airball and hit one of two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to seal the win.
Wallace was playing with a sore foot that he has battled throughout the playoffs.
“You can see he’s got no lift,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “He hasn’t been able to practice in a month. They played great defensively against him.”
Ron Artest scored 17, Al Harrington had 14 and Tinsley 13 for the Pacers, who won despite shooting 33 percent and getting outrebounded 47-41. Indiana was held to 30 second-half points, 13 in the third quarter.
Artest said he expects to be matched against Hamilton at some point in the series, though he didn’t get the assignment in Game 1.
“I don’t mind chasing anybody,” said Artest, the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year.
Game 3 is Wednesday in Detroit.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Pistons - 3rd seed; beat Milwaukee Bucks 4-1, first round; beat New Jersey Nets 4-3, conference semifinals. Pacers - 1st seed; beat Boston Celtics 4-0, first round; beat Miami Heat 4-2, conference semifinals.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Pistons - F Tayshaun Prince, F Rasheed Wallace, C Ben Wallace, G Hamilton, G Billups. Pacers - F Artest, F O’Neal, C Foster, G Miller, G Tinsley.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pistons - Hamilton, 20.6 ppg; Ben Wallace, 14.5 rpg; Billups, 6.2 apg. Pacers - Artest, 20.6 ppg; O’Neal, 9.1 rpg; Tinsley, 5.8 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Pacers, 3-1. Neither team scored 90 points in any of the four games, and the loser averaged just 73. Hamilton shot 9-of-16 from the field for 24 points in the Pistons’ only win, and averaged 12.7 points on 31 percent shooting in the other three meetings. O’Neal averaged 19.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in the series, while Artest added 17.3 points per contest. Billups was held to 10.5 points per game on 22 percent shooting.