NEW YORK (AP) -- Reggie Miller clinched it in the clutch and celebrated with class.
Miller, putting on a vintage display of shooting at his favorite arena outside of Indiana, shot the Pacers into the NBA Finals for the first time as they defeated the New York Knicks 93-80 Friday night in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
When it was over, when Miller could have showboated and rubbed it in the faces of the team and the city he loves to hate so passionately, he didn't.
Miller simply ran on to the court, hugged teammates Dale Davis and Jalen Rose and walked off as the New York fans, including front-row nemesis Spike Lee and the thousands who always compare him to a vacuum, stood and applauded in a sportsmanlike show of respect.
''We talked a whole lot about the noise and what we were going to do if we won, but New York was very gracious last year in upsetting us,'' Miller said. ''You never want to rub it in no one's face. No one likes losing. We know the feeling.''
Boy, did they ever know that feeling.
Four times in the past the Pacers were one victory from the finals; four times they couldn't come through. They were The Little Team That Couldn't, the small-market stooges who always wilted under pressure.
Not any more.
''Unbelievable feeling,'' Pacers guard Mark Jackson said. ''Reggie and I have been talking about this for years and years and years, time and time again keeping each other up all night long, calling in the middle of the night, wondering.
''And now, to have the opportunity to go ahead and represent the Eastern Conference in the finals is absolutely phenomenal. To finish it off was absolutely awesome.''
And nobody was more awesome than Miller, who returned to the scene of some of his greatest playoff performances and played the villain again.
Scoring 34 points and making five 3-pointers -- four in a span of 6 1/2 minutes late in the game, Miller added another page to his resume of Knick-killing moments at Madison Square Garden.
In an outburst that took the fight out of the no longer resilient Knicks, Miller started his shooting spree with a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to send the game into the fourth tied at 62.
His next 3 gave the Pacers the lead for good, his next made it a seven-point game and his last restored a seven-point lead with 6:08 left. He added eight more points on free throws the rest of the way for what was easily his best game of the series. It was his best single moment at Madison Square Garden in two years, even though the teams also met last year in the conference finals.
''I might hate, dislike, whatever word you want to use for New York, but I needed that fire last year. I never talked trash, I gave them all the respect, and I think that killed my game because I wasn't aggressive for the whole series,'' Miller said.
It was that deep-seated hatred, nurtured over seven years of battles between the teams, that gave Miller the extra edge this year.
So many years of coming so close, so many years of never winning the big one -- something had to inspire Miller to lead his team where it has never been before.
''I had to start as soon as they won in Miami, I had to start,'' he said. ''You have to hate someone. There's no way you can play against a team if you like them, and through years past I always hated New York. Last year, I didn't hate them because I thought it was going to be easy.''
This year, though, he professed his hatred the day before Game 1 and was the only player from either team to talk up the rivalry.
This was the fifth time in seven years that the Pacers had an opportunity to get to the finals with just one victory, all five chances coming on the road. And after losing all those games -- twice to the Knicks in 1994, once each to Orlando in 1995 and Chicago in 1998 -- the Pacers finally won one.
''I had a feeling I could get these guys to the finals,'' coach Larry Bird said. ''So here we are. It's been one of the greatest experiences of my life."
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