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Pacers stall Knicks' ride to title
Indiana wins despite another poor outing from Reggie Miller

Pacers 90, Knicks 78

NEW YORK -- Returning to the scene of Larry Johnson's devastating four-point play, the Indiana Pacers came up with the only suitable answer.They made sure no such miracle would happen again.

The Pacers, still as poised and confident as ever, picked apart the New York Knicks despite getting almost nothing from their two best offensive players. As it turned out, the Pacers didn't need much from Reggie Miller or Rik Smits to beat the Knicks 90-78 Monday night and tie the Eastern Conference finals 2-2.

"If you let that taste stay in your mouth, you have no shot," said Miller, never a factor as the Pacers carved out the most lopsided victory of the series. "It was tough to sleep. Everyone was tossing and turning."

Now, the Knicks might be doing the same. They are left to ponder how their charmed playoff run stalled so quickly and thoroughly.

"They did everything," Knicks guard Chris Childs said. "You name it, they did whatever they wanted to."

The series returns to Indiana on Wednesday night with nearly everything about it changed drastically since Johnson's four-point play gave the Knicks an improbable victory in Game 3.

The Pacers overcame another poor game from Miller, foiled Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy's decision to start Latrell Sprewell and restored their confidence -- and homecourt advantage -- all in one simple but effective night at Madison Square Garden.

"We didn't want to go home with a 3-1 deficit hanging our heads, knowing we'd have to play an elimination game back here," said Jalen Rose, who led the Pacers with 19 points. "... We were in this situation this time last year against Michael and the Bulls, and we didn't find any reason to panic or get nervous then."

The fans at the Garden got nervous in a hurry. Scattered boos were heard at halftime as the Pacers led by 13, even though Miller and Smits were scoreless. Fans headed for the exits by the thousands with a few minutes left, deprived of another dramatic finish. It was the first time in the series that the game wasn't decided on the final play.

"We talked about that in the huddle -- a lot of people were getting up and leaving despite it being a 10-point game -- that if we get up a couple more, this place will be empty," Rose said.

Miller, challenged by Pacers coach Larry Bird to play like a superstar and shoot more, scored 12 points on 3-for-10 shooting. Smits got into early foul trouble and was nearly as much a factor as injured Knicks center Patrick Ewing, who sat on the sidelines in a suit. Smits played 13 minutes and scored four points.

In their absence, native New Yorker Chris Mullin scored 18 points and made the Garden his stage again with 10 points in the third quarter. Rose stopped several comeback attempts by the Knicks with dramatic shots.

"In the papers, they're always saying Jalen hasn't showed up," Miller said. "Coach has been getting on him a little bit, and he came out and had the game of his life. I told him in the fourth quarter, he hit some of the biggest shots that I've seen him make."

The Knicks got their deficit down to seven points four times in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, but each time the Pacers answered quickly -- a three-point play by Dale Davis, a pair of jumpers by Rose and a three-point play by Antonio Davis.

As the clock ticked inside the four-minute mark, there was no need for Miller to touch the ball. He was 0-for-5 in the final four minutes of the first three games.

Miller made a running bank shot for a three-point play, giving the Pacers an 86-74 lead with 73 seconds left. He pumped his fist near the Knicks' sideline, sensing that this was his lone highlight. That didn't stop one of the greatest show-stoppers Broadway has ever seen from issuing a warning.

"I'm telling you, I'm starting to feel better the longer this series goes," Miller said. "I keep telling the guys, it's almost like an overflowing dam. It's getting to the top and it's getting ready to burst."

Sprewell had 12 points on 6-for-14 shooting in his first start in the playoffs. He committed his fifth foul on Miller's three-point play and fouled out with 53 seconds left, leaving Van Gundy to wonder how such a popular decision could go so wrong.

Any second thoughts, Van Gundy was asked?

"No, I don't have any," he said. "If it doesn't work, some people are going to second-guess you. I don't worry about that. I know that this is the way we have to go to have a chance to win this series."

Notes: Allan Houston was 5-for-16 and Johnson was 5-for-15 for the Knicks. Marcus Camby led New York with 18 points and 14 rebounds. ... Former Knicks forward Charles Oakley was in the crowd, barely acknowledging cheers when he was shown on the big screen. Muhammad Ali canceled his scheduled appearance at the last minute. ... Indiana's victory ensured that the series will return to New York for Game 6 on Friday. As a result, the NBA Finals will not start until Wednesday, June 16.