NEW YORK — Exactly 18 years after completely shocking the New York Knicks, Reggie Miller was in the house again — this time, in a role in which he couldn’t stun New York again.
Neither could his Indiana Pacers descendants. The Knicks made sure of that.
Back on May 7, 1995, Miller incredibly scored the last eight points in a span of just 8.9 seconds, to rally the Pacers to an unlikely two-point win, and a 1-0 series lead over the Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
On the same floor, with Miller sitting courtside, doing national television commentary for TNT, the Knicks turned a 64-62 deficit into an easy 105-79 victory — with a crushing 36-4 run that spanned the final two quarters — to even their best-of-seven East semifinal series with Miller’s former franchise at a game apiece, at Madison Square Garden, on Tuesday night.
Star forward Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 32 points while grabbing a team-high nine rebounds, and second-seeded New York had four other double digit scorers, including forward Iman Shumpert (15 points) and Raymond Felton (14).
Points off turnovers (a 32-6 advantage for the Knicks) provided the margin of victory, as seven different New York players totaled 11 steals for a team that also had 21 more points (29-8) on 10 more second-chance shots (13-3).
While the Knicks protected the ball well (with just six turnovers), their defensive thefts accounted for half of the Pacers’ 21 turnovers — a third of which were committed by forward Paul George, who led Indiana with 20 points.
Only forward David West (13 points) and guard George Hill (12) were able to join George in double figures for the third-seeded Pacers.
The opening period was a quarter of runs, as New York led 8-2, before allowing Indiana to tie the game, 11-11. The Knicks scored the next seven points and closed the frame on an 18-9 run to go up, 29-20.
In the next period, New York built an 11-point lead on five separate occasions — the third time, on a spectacular, one-handed putback dunk by Shumpert — before going up by as much as 47-34, with 3:46 left in the second quarter.
The Pacers immediately answered Shumpert’s theatrics with an 8-2 run, to get within 39-34 (as the Garden crowd was still buzzing over Shumpert’s slam too much to notice that its team’s lead had shrunken by more than half). But, the Knicks countered that spurt with three straight buckets in the paint and a Shumpert jumper. However, Indiana then scored the final eight points of the half, to trail just 47-42 at halftime.
Anthony started the second half with a dunk, before a Hill three-pointer capped a seven-minute span in which the Pacers went on a 22-13 run, to take their final lead of the game.
Just 23 seconds after that, head coach Frank Vogel sat center Roy Hibbert (six points, game highs of 12 rebounds and four blocked shots), and Anthony immediately took advantage of his absence in the middle, with a steal and a driving layup, and then a defensive rebound at one end, before a dunk plus a free throw at the other, to put the New York up for good, 67-64.
Realizing his team’s sudden defensive void in lane, Vogel put Hibbert right back in after a rest of only 1:15, But, the momentum had already begun to swing heavily in the favor of the Knicks, who became a lot more aggressive when Hibbert sat down.
And, they kept attacking even after Hibbert rejoined the game. After taking just four free throws over the first 33:52 of the game, New York attempted five (while making only two) during a 10-2 run that ended the third quarter with the Knicks ahead, 72-66.
Making absolutely certain that George nor any other Indiana player would be able to duplicate what Miller had done nearly two decades earlier, New York scored the first 20 points of the final quarter, while holding Indiana scoreless in the period until forward Tyler Hansbrough scored his only two points of the game on a pair of free throws with 4:48 remaining.
“For a while, they didn’t score in the fourth quarter,” Shumpert acknowledged. “We messed up and let them have [Game 1] on our home court, so we [knew we had] to go get [Game 2].”
Guard Pablo Prigioni (10 points, four rebounds, four assists, no rebounds in 21 minutes) got the fourth quarter run started with a three-pointer and a floater, and Anthony closed the spurt with six points, to push the Knicks’ lead to 92-66, before the margin later swelled to as much as 98-68, with 4:14 to go.
“I think for the most part, from the start of the game, and throughout the whole game, we played with a [greater] sense of urgency [than in Game 1].”
After seeing his team struggle to score at times while ousting the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics in six games, one round earlier, and doing the same in a Game 1 loss to Indiana, head coach Mike Woodson said, “We finally found some offense, and that helped us play pretty good defense… [in the] fourth quarter, defensively, we picked up. We kept getting stop after stop, and our offense got into a flow like old times. It was nice to see.”
Also nice to witness for Knicks fans, was New York ending its NBA-record streak of 48 straight playoff games without scoring 100 points.
As happy as they were with that, Woodson was simply pleased with the Knicks’ overall level of effort — something which both he and his players admitted was lacking too much in Game 1.
“I thought it was a total team hustle game,” he said. “Everybody was involved with deflections. Our hands were active, our rotations were great. Our rotations weren’t very good the first game. We had too many lapses. Tonight, after watching tape, and rehearsing, I thought our rotations were right where they needed to be.”
With 1:24 to go, Shumpert came in for Prigioni, who received perhaps his loudest ovation of the season.
Seconds later, the Garden fans, well aware of the history during which the Knicks and Pacers split six heated playoff series between 1993 and 2000, serenaded Miller with “Reggie Sucks!” chants.
And, just like that, the rivalry was renewed.
Game 3, with injured New York forward Amar’e Stoudemire possibly returning from knee surgery for a second time this season, is scheduled for an 8 p.m. Eastern time start on ABC-TV, on Saturday, in Indiana.
All quotes and game information courtesy of Jonathan Wagner, while covering the Indiana Pacers-New York Knicks game for New York Sports Day, at Madison Square Garden, in New York, N.Y., on May 7, 2013.