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Knicks Win as Miller Runs Out of Miracles : NBA playoffs: New York’s pride takes over, 98-91, and series is tied, 3-3.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Onto the shoulders of Reggie Miller went the Indiana Pacers again Friday night, hoping for a repeat ride, this time to Houston. And step on it.

He had gotten them here, in position to put away the New York Knicks at home for the NBA Eastern Conference title, with an amazing fourth-quarter performance two nights earlier in Madison Square Garden. Then, even with every defender keying on him, he scored 12 of his team’s 18 points in the final period at Market Square Arena, which proved enough to scare the Knicks.

But not to beat them.

Miller finished with 27 points and turned an 11-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter into a tie game, but the Knicks wound up with a 98-91 victory before 16,529 to even the Eastern Conference final series, 3-3.

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To hear the Knicks, they earned more than a decisive Game 7 Sunday back in New York. They got redemption for losing at home for the first time in the playoffs, as well as a chance to answer the doubters who thought this three-year buildup of players such as Charles Smith and Derek Harper would evaporate in Indiana, where the Pacers had not lost in the postseason.

“Tonight was all about pride,” center Patrick Ewing said after getting 17 points and 10 rebounds. “It was funny because everyone was jumping off the bandwagon. All of our fans and media back in New York had given up hope on us. But we hadn’t. We knew we were going to be playing on Sunday.”

Did he mean those headlines that cried, “CHOKERS,” in the form of the team logo and “GAG CITY,” in two-inch type? Those little references to abandoning ship?

Never mind.

“There was a massive, massive thud the other night with everyone jumping off the bandwagon,” Knick Coach Pat Riley said. “Now, I’m sure there will be a massive thud with everyone jumping back on.

“We may not be the prettiest team and we may not be the most skilled team at times. But I don’t see how anyone can question our heart. This team is all about heart.”

Friday, they were about gut checks, too, when the fourth quarter could have been their last.

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It started, fittingly, with Miller hitting a three-pointer on the Pacers’ first possession, cutting the deficit to 80-72. This was not a good omen.

About five minutes later, with Miller again trying to run defenders ragged around screens, he caught the ball, dribbled up for a leaner from the free-throw line and moved Indiana within 88-86. With 3:03 left, he drove the baseline, was fouled and made both free throws, trimming the Knick lead to 91-90.

“It was getting kind of scary down there,” Knick guard John Starks said.

The break New York needed came, strangely, with Miller at the line again, having already tied the score, 91-91, when he made the first attempt with 2:06 left. Then he missed the second.

“We knew that when he missed that free throw,” Starks said, “we were going to win the game.”

Maybe the miss from one of the game’s surest free-throw shooters was such a letdown for the Pacers, or maybe it was the only opportunity the Knicks needed, but Starks was right. Derek Harper’s jump shot opened some breathing room, 93-91, then Starks made one of two from the line. With 25 seconds to go, Harper made one of his free throws, New York had a four-point cushion and, it turned out, the game was under control.

Miller finished eight for 21 from the field, including two for seven on three-pointers, and nine of 12 from the line. But that last free throw before the miss turned out to be Indiana’s final point.

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The Pacers can only hope it won’t be a missed opportunity that lives all summer.

“Give them credit,” Indiana Coach Larry Brown said of the Knicks. “They came in very assertive and aggressive. The bench was terrific, and I thought Starks had an incredible game (with 26 points), especially after what Reggie did to him the last game.

“I think we’ll be all right. Heck, we knew we didn’t have the home-court advantage to begin with. I look forward to (Sunday). This is how you build a team.”

Or end a season.

Eastern Conference Finals

New York Knicks vs. Indiana Pacers

Results Game 1: New York 100, Indiana 89 Game 2: New York 89, Indiana 78 Game 3: Indiana 88, New York 68 Game 4: Indiana 83, New York 77 Game 5: Indiana 93, New York 86 Game 6: New York 98, Indiana 91

Schedule

Sunday: at New York 4 p.m.

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