Who knows what has become of that big green and yellow tractor across the street from Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, the one some self-deprecating Hoosier parked amid the pep rally of people poking fun at themselves in response to New Yorkers laughing at the hayseeds.
It was impossible to miss, not only because of the size but because of the sign taped to the side of the engine cover:
PAT RILEY’S LIMOUSINE.
This, according to the locals’ plan, was supposed to be how Riley would ride out of Mayberry late Friday, his Knicks following in humiliation after having lost four in a row to the fourth-place team from the Central Division and being bounced from the NBA playoffs. No dice. Riley and his charges went back first class, riding the wave of a 98-91 victory that carried them to New York to make another stand. The chartered aircraft helped, too.
This is where it has taken them, to Madison Square Garden tonight for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Indiana. The winner advances to the NBA finals, starting Wednesday against the Rockets in Houston. The loser goes home to contemplate what went wrong.
That goes for the Pacers, too, although no one could have predicted before the season, or even as late as January, that they would need one victory in two games to get to the NBA championship series.
The Knicks, on the other hand, were expected to succeed the Chicago Bulls atop the East, probably remaining as favorites even after the Atlanta Hawks beat them out for the best record in the conference. It is not possible for New York to go beyond preseason expectations. But it is unacceptable to face being knocked out by losing four of the last five games, two at home.
“We feel we can go down there and steal another one,” Pacer Reggie Miller said after Game 6. “It would have been nice to end it here, yeah, but we’ve got to do it the hard way. This is what the playoffs are all about. All the money is riding on that game.”
The statistics say it will be harder than ever. The last time a team won a Game 7 on the road was in 1982, when the Philadelphia 76ers advanced with a victory at Boston Garden. Eighteen home teams have won since.
Whether that means anything in this series remains to be seen. The Pacers, after all, stunned New York, the team and the city, with a victory here in Game 5, when Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback from a 12-point deficit in that final period. That gave Indiana a chance to close out the series at Market Square Arena in an environment that was so playoff-crazy that several television stations covered the airport arrival of Knick booster Spike Lee, but New York won again.
“The crowd is going to be raucous, our guys are going to be pumped,” said Knick Coach Pat Riley, looking down the line to move into a second-place tie with John Kundla with five NBA titles, behind only Red Auerbach’s nine, on the all-time list. “We want to get to June 8. That’s what our quest has been. I think we have an opportunity.”
Added guard Greg Anthony: “That’s what we worked all year for, to get the home-court advantage. We kind of let ourselves down a little bit (in Game 5) but we have a chance at redemption.”
They have a chance at much more. Or no more.