The NBA Playoffs are where legends are born. For most teams, the birth of their legend is like the result of a long and blissful courtship. But for the Indiana Pacers, it's more like get getting knocked up by a drunken frat boy, putting your legend up for adoption, and sadly watching from afar while some rich family raises it to become the genius who cures cancer. Then you die of Herpes.

That's why I always tell people that being a Pacers fan is sort of like having a terminal illness: you know that you're doomed, but you still hold on to a glimmer of hope...only to have that hope ripped out of your chest and eaten alive by the savage Basketball Gods.

Bird and Person
Many Pacer playoff games are very unlegendary.

Newton's Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Translated into basketball terms, this means that for every incredible Reggie Miller playoff feat - the 39-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer against the Nets, a 3-pointer at the buzzer in Michael Jordan's ugly face, 25 points in the fourth quarter against the Knicks , 8 points in 8.9 seconds against the Knicks, coming back from the dead to raise the Titanic against the Knicks, traveling through time to defeat Nazi UFOs against the Knicks - there has been an equally soul-crushing and disasterous de-feat. Here are my top five:

Number 5: Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals

What Happened: On the road and under the gun, the Pacers were leading the Bulls 77-74 with five minutes left when the 6'5" Michael Jordan won a jump ball against the 7'4" human telephone pole Rik Smits. This traveshamockery lead to a game-tying 3-point shot by Steve Kerr and, eventually, an 88-83 Bulls win that made me wish Michael Jordan had died of some crippling childhood disease.

Miller vs Jordan
Why couldn't Michael have died young?

Number 4: Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals

What Happened: Leading the best-of-seven series against the Knicks 3-2, the Pacers flushed the series away when they lost game 6 at home (their only home playoff loss that year). Still, they were leading 90-89 in the final minute of game 7 when perennial playoff loser Patrick Ewing rebounded a John Starks miss and put it back in for a 91-90 Knicks lead. Things went from bad to tragic after that when Reggie missed a 3-pointer and then got called for a flagrant foul against Starks. The final score: Knicks win 94-90.

Patrick Ewing
Ewing didn't win a title, but he did beat the Pacers.

Number 3: Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals

What Happened: Even though they trailed the series 2-1 to the Lakers, the Pacers still had a very real chance to capture their first NBA long as they won all their home games. But in game 4, the team pulled a collective choke job (except, of course, for Reggie, who made six of his eight shots in the 4th quarter, including four of his five 3-pointers, and all three of his free throws): they lost 120-118 in overtime despite the fact that Shaq had fouled out. Kobe Bryant, whose hair at that time looked like the end of a dirty Q-Tip, pretty much took over the game in overtime, establishing his legend and earning my undying hatred.

Kobe beats pacers
Note to the dirty Q-Tip: I hate you.

Number 2: Game 2 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals

What Happened: With 61 wins, the Pacers had the best record in the league and there was every reason to believe they would make it back to the NBA Finals. Leading the series 1-0 against the Pistons, the Pacers were down only 2 with less than a minute to go when Tayshaun Prince made an amazing block of what would have been a game-tying breakaway layup by Reggie. Instead of Miller dunking the Pacers to victory, the Pistons won the game 72-67, won the series 4-2, and then went on to sweep the Lakers in the Finals, adding bitter insult to brutal injury.

Prince blocks Reggie
Why didn't you dunk the goddamned ball, Reggie?!

Number 1: Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals

What Happened: This was the game that finally convinced me: God hates the Pacers. Maybe Reggie sacrificed a newborn baby after every game-winning shot, or maybe the team was cursed by gypsies for trading away Chuck Person and Detlef Schrempf. I don't know. But nothing short of Satan's dark power can explain what happened that day. Michael Jordan had retired (again). The Bulls were gone. This was to be Year 1 of the Pacers Dynasty. They were even leading the game 91-88 with five seconds left. But Larry Johnson, best known for dressing up as his own elderly grandmother, got fouled by Antonio Davis, dribbled once, took three steps, and then hit a 3-pointer. Unbelievably, referee Dick Bavetta (known around the league as "Knick Bavetta") ruled it a continuation. Johnson hit the free throw to complete a 4-point play, and the Knicks won 92-91. Instead of eventually going up 3-1 (they won game 4), the Pacers never recovered and lost the series 4-2.

LJ 4-pointer
God doesn't love Larry Johnson. He hates the Pacers.

Honorable Mention: Game 3 of the 1992 First Round Series. In 1991, the Pacers pushed the Celtics to the limit, and only a truly legendary performance by Larry Bird preserved a 124-121 victory in game 5. The 1991-92 season was supposed to be the Pacers breakout season, and they got a first-round rematch with the Celtics, who had lost Bird to injury. Everyone outside of Boston thought the Pacers would prevail. Even when they lost two close games in Boston, most analysts felt it was the Pacers who should have been up 2-0. They came out so fired up in game 3 that they trailed by as many as 18 and finally lost 102-98 as the Celtics swept. This was the infamous series in which George McCloud sprained his ankle while talking on the phone, and Michael Williams let John Bagley average almost 30 points and 10 assists a game. Before the game, Hubie Brown said, "The Pacers are better than the Celtics in every phase of the game. They should be up 2-0." After the game, Hubie said, "The Pacers are regressing. They have deficiencies at every position. They're going to need a major overhaul in the offseason."
Anonymous Anonymous said...
First site I've seen that shows how painful it is to be a fan of the Pacers. No one can truly understand the pain until they've lived through watching those games unfold. I'm proud to say I'm a survivor. Great work on the whole site.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The Lakers weren't swept by the Pistons, jerk-off.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
michael jordan dieing of a disease...ok your ridiculous, basketball would not be where it was a couple of years ago without him, now you have a bunch of thugs destroying the game and its image so there you go

Anonymous Anonymous said...
The Suns also have a lot of room to claim the "most cursed" crown: Coin flip for Lou Alcindor, the suspensions, William Bedford, a powerhouse team going 0-18 on TNT, peaking versus the Auerbach Celts and the Jordan Bulls, having the 4th best all-time NBA winning percentage (#s 1-3 have 34 championships; Suns: 0), etc.