With the playoffs off and running, the Indiana Pacers’ quest for the organization’s first NBA title is underway. Even if successful, however, it’s hard to imagine it’ll have the impact of the team that fell short of that prize two decades ago.
This is the 20th anniversary of the 1994 postseason run that put Indianapolis on the pro sports map, and that led to the birth of its first true national superstar.
Yeah. Time flies.
That ‘94 streak to the Eastern Conference Finals was filled with some of the best sports drama ever witnessed.
In the opening round against an Orlando team with Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway, Indiana’s Byron Scott drained a 3-pointer with two seconds left in Game 1 for a one-point win. The Magic never recovered, and the fifth-seeded Pacers rolled to a three-game sweep.
The next series, against top-seeded Atlanta, is one often overlooked. I’ve been to most of the great postseason events in Indy after 1993, and I swear to this day that the series-clinching Game 6 against the Hawks at Market Square Arena is the loudest game ever played in this city. That place held noise like a small tunnel-slide, and Reggie Miller brought the house down. It was absolute madness, down to the crowd’s “EHLO SUCKS” chant-assault of Atlanta’s Craig Ehlo, that went on for five solid minutes at a deafening level.
Even in defeat, the ‘94 conference finals against New York will always be the most memorable playoff series in Indianapolis history. Next to the Colts’ 2006 win over New England to reach their first Super Bowl (sorry, Baltimore history means nothing here), the Game 5 Miller barrage at Madison Square Garden is its most significant night.
Miller’s 25-point fourth quarter and back-and-forth with Spike Lee was beyond anything we’ve seen, before or since. I watched it at Macri’s Deli in Bloomington, after about 80 percent of the place cleared out with Indiana down 12 going to the fourth. In addition to introducing himself to the world, Miller taught a lot of Hoosiers a life lesson that night – never leave a game early, especially one in which he was playing.