The coach walked hastily off the floor, his eyes never looking up at the confetti pouring down from the rafters. The locker room was quiet. The smiles were few.
No, that wasn't the losers' post-game scene. That was how the Indiana Pacers responded to reaching the Eastern Conference finals."In the past, we would have been happy in this situation. Now, we've set our sights higher," Rik Smits said after the Pacers defeated the New York Knicks 99-88 Wednesday night for a 4-1 victory in the second-round series. "We've got a long way to go."
The next round begins Sunday at Chicago, and this will be the Pacers' third trip to the conference finals in the past five years. They lost to the Knicks in 1994 and Orlando in 1995.
"This isn't the ultimate goal," said Mark Jackson, who had the first triple-double in Pacers playoff history with 22 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists. "We're not going to rant or jump up and down. Our ultimate goal is to win the championship."
The Pacers will go to Chicago knowing they have enough experience and depth to be a serious threat to beat the Bulls. It was all on display against the Knicks as Indiana dominated the point guard and center positions and got enough from Reggie Miller to cancel out Allan Houston of New York.
Miller scored 24 points, Smits had 22 and the Pacers were stingy on defense, too, holding New York without a basket for a six-minute stretch of the fourth quarter as they turned a 73-73 tie into an 87-75 lead.
By the time Patrick Ewing scored to break the spurt with 1:43 left, it was too late for the Knicks.
"We have a little more added on this time," said Antonio Davis, another veteran of Indiana's playoff failures. "Instead of a cast of five or six, we have eight or nine guys who can really go out and play."
Smits shot 10-for-15 with nine rebounds, the Pacers out-re-bound-ed New York 46-34 and - in the mark of a good passing team - had assists on 23 of their 33 field goals.
For the Knicks, it was a disappointing end to a season that lasted longer and had more successful twists and turns than ever seemed possible back on Dec. 20, when Ewing went down with a fractured wrist.
He returned for this series and played adequately at times, but it was clear in Game 5 he wasn't himself. Ewing shot 4-for-13 from the field and 2-for-8 from the line, and Houston's 33 points weren't enough to carry the Knicks.