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Pacers look to extend Bird's tenure as coach

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


INDIANAPOLIS -- Not like this. Not on their home floor. Not on Larry Bird's farewell night.

The Indiana Pacers, staring at a historically insurmountable 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, haven't given up hope. And they say they'll be darned if they let the Lakers celebrate the title tonight at their beloved Conseco Fieldhouse in Bird's final home game as coach.

"We can't have that," Pacers forward Jalen Rose said. "We just can't have that."

The Pacers are nothing if not a proud team. They have taken it personally that they weren't given much of a chance against the glamorous Lakers, who were expected by some experts to sweep. Indiana entered the best-of-seven series intent on "shocking the world," and although that seems less likely now, they are determined to send the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6.

That means winning tonight, an evening already unofficially booked as Larry Bird Night in honor of the Indiana legend who is stepping down at season's end. Another sellout crowd has already sent its RSVP and the Pacers don't want to spoil the festive mood by disappointing the home fans who spurred them to the league's best home-court record (36-5) during the regular season.

"We've played so well here at home this year that we don't want to lose in front of the people who have been supporting us all year," Pacers veteran Derrick McKey said.

Bird won't even entertain the idea of his last game being a loss at home.

"I don't think it's going to be our last game," he said. "I know these guys are down in there, but we have to snap back. This is the Finals. You don't worry about what's going to happen next. You don't give up. You just go out and try to win a ballgame."

The Pacers wouldn't mind having another night like Wednesday's Game 4, only with a different outcome. They acknowledge it was perhaps their best game of the series.

They shot 50 percent from the field and 52.6 from three-point range; got big games from Reggie Miller (35 points) and Rik Smits (24); had four other players in double figures and committed just 12 turnovers.

"You expect to win a ballgame," Miller said, "when you shoot 50 percent in the playoffs."

Where the Pacers faltered was rebounding, grabbing 39 to the Lakers' 42. Every time the Lakers have won the rebounding war in the series, they have won the game.

And it was Kobe Bryant's putback of an offensive rebound with 5.9 seconds left in overtime that won the game 120-118.

Part of the problem was that Indiana's best rebounder, forward Dale Davis, fouled out late in the fourth quarter. He picked up three fouls in a span of 1:32 trying to defend O'Neal, who scored five points down the stretch.

"Rebounding has always been the Achilles' heel of this team, especially offensive rebounds, which killed us (Wednesday) night," Miller said. "I've always felt if we're even or ahead in rebounding, we'll win most ballgames."

Working in Indiana's favor is that the Lakers have had trouble closing out series on the road this post-season. They blew two chances to finish off Sacramento in the first round, one chance against Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals, and one chance against Portland in the conference final.

"We realize what has happened in each series, that we haven't been able to close it out when we should have," Lakers forward Glen Rice said. "I think we're going to use that for motivation. I think we want to be known as a team that can close it out, so (tonight) we're definitely going to come out aggressive and see if we can close this thing out."

The Pacers, of course, have their motivations as well.

If merely extending the series another game isn't enough, they only need to look to their 53rd straight home sellout crowd of the season and their coach.

"We understand that we have a legendary coach. We all knew this was his final year and we want to extend it and keep playing," Miller said. "He's had a great run while he's been here. That's why we want to keep it going."

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