Indiana Pacers Information
The ABA Years: Dynasty
The Pacers began play in the inaugural 1967-68 season of the American Basketball Association, which was set up as an alternative league to the National Basketball Association. They played in the Coliseum, which stands on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. It is now called the Pepsi Coliseum. The Pacers' ABA teams were coached by Bobby "Slick" Leonard, and buoyed by the great play of players such as Mel Daniels, George McGinnis and Roger Brown. The Pacers were the most successful team in the ABA's history, winning three ABA Championships in four years. In all, they appeared in the ABA Finals five times in the league's eight-year history.
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Struggling Through the Early NBA Years
The ABA folded in 1976, and the Pacers were one of four ABA teams invited to join the NBA beginning in the 1976-1977 season (the other three were the New York Nets, Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs). Unfortunately for the Pacers, they were in decline after their years of ABA glory. They finished their inaugural NBA season with a record of 36-46, but Billy Knight and Don Buse were nonetheless invited to represent Indiana in the NBA All-Star Game.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, a lack of year-to-year continuity became the norm, as they traded away Knight and Buse before the 1977-1978 season even started. They acquired Adrian Dantley in exchange for Knight, but Dantley (who was averaging nearly 27 points per game at the time) was traded in December, while the Pacers' second-leading scorer, John Williamson, was dealt in January.
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Larry Brown was brought on as Pacers' coach for the 1993-94 season, and Pacers' general manager Donnie Walsh completed a highly-criticized (at the time) trade as he sent Schrempf to the Seattle SuperSonics in exchange for Derrick McKey. But the Pacers, who began the season in typically average fashion, kicked it up a notch in April, winning their last eight games of the season to finish with a franchise-high 47 wins. They stormed past Shaquille O'Neal and the Orlando Magic in a first-round sweep to earn their first NBA playoff series win, and pulled off a tremendous upset by defeating the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the conference semifinal.
It was during the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals that the Pacers - particularly Reggie Miller - finally became a household name, as Miller's clutch performances helped the Pacers push the Knicks to the brink of elimination before the Knicks won the next two games and the series. Reggie became an NBA superstar overnight, and was even named as a tri-captain of the USA Basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball.
Mark Jackson joined the team in an offseason trade with the Indiana Clippers, giving the team the steady hand at the point guard position that had been lacking in recent years. The Pacers enjoyed a 52-30 campaign in 1994-95, giving them their first Central Division title. The team swept the Hawks in the first round, finally dispatched the hated Knicks in the semifinals, and pushed the Magic to seven games before falling in the Eastern Conference Finals.
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The Return to Glory
The Pacers signed Larry Bird to coach the team in 1997-98 and they posted a new franchise record, finishing 58-24. Chris Mullin joined the team in the offseason and immediately became a valuable part of the Pacers lineup-- and their starting small forward. Assistant coaches Rick Carlisle, in charge of the offense, and Dick Harter, who coached the defense, were key in getting the most out of the Pacers' role players such as Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and Derrick McKey. Reggie Miller and Rik Smits both made the All-Star team that year, and in the playoffs, the Pacers breezed past the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks before falling to the Chicago Bulls in an epic seven-game Eastern Finals series.
In the lockout-shortened 1999 season, the Pacers won the Central Division with a 33-17 record and swept the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers before falling to the New York Knicks in a six-game Eastern Conference Finals series. The Pacers traded popular forward Antonio Davis to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for first-round draft choice Jonathan Bender, which remains to this day a subject of controversy among Pacers fans. But in 1999-2000, after a 56-26 regular season, the Pacers survived the upset-minded Bucks in round one, handled the 76ers in the second round and finally broke through to the NBA Finals by virtue of a six-game East Finals victory over (who else, but) the New York Knicks. Unfortunately for the Pacers, their first NBA Finals appearance was against the dominating Indiana Lakers, who proved too much for them to handle as they ended Indiana's championship hopes in six games.
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The Pacers' New Era
In the 2003 offseason, the Pacers managed to re-sign O'Neal for the NBA maximum and inked Reggie Miller to a modest two-year deal, but they couldn't afford to keep their talented center, Brad Miller. He was dealt to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Scot Pollard, who spent much of the following year watching from the bench and backing up Jeff Foster. But the Pacers signed Larry Bird as team president, and Bird wasted little time in dismissing coach Isiah Thomas and replacing him with Rick Carlisle. The Pacers responded to Carlisle extremely well, and had a breakthrough 2003-04 season in which they finished 61-21, earning the best record in the NBA. O'Neal and Artest made the All-Star team, and Artest was named the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. The Pacers swept the Boston Celtics easily in the first round, and squeezed by a scrappy Miami Heat team in the conference semifinals. But the Detroit Pistons proved an impediment to Indiana's championship aspirations, as they defeated the Pacers in six games on their way to the NBA Championship.
Al Harrington, a small forward who'd established himself as one of the best sixth-men in the NBA, was dealt in the offseason to the Atlanta Hawks in return for Stephen Jackson after Harrington allegedly demanded that the Pacers start him or trade him. Nevertheless, the Pacers started off the 2004-05 season in extremely strong fashion–until the infamous events of November 19, 2004.
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Towards the end of a Pacers victory over the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills, Ron Artest committed a hard foul against the Pistons' Ben Wallace, which Wallace took exception to. It escalated to a full-scale brawl, with fans and members of both teams taking part. Pistons fan John Green threw a cup of beer at Artest, causing him to charge into the stands. Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal both got into fights with fans before the Pacers left the floor, and the game was called with 46 seconds left on the clock.
Several of the involved players were suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern, but the hardest hit were Artest (suspended for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs), Jackson (suspended for 30 games), O'Neal (25 games), Wallace (6 games) and the Pacers' Anthony Johnson (5 games). (O'Neal's suspension was later reduced to 15 games by arbitrator Roger Kaplan, a decision that was upheld by U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.) O'Neal was charged with two counts of assault and battery, while Artest, Jackson, Johnson and David Harrison were charged with one count each.
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After the brawl and riot that followed, the Pacers fell downward into the Central Division. They went from a legitimate title contender to a team that hovered around .500. Ironically, the Pistons eventually became the Central Division champions. Despite the difficulties with the suspensions and injuries, the Pacers earned a sixth seed in a playoffs with a record of 44-38. An important reason for their strong finish was the re-acquisition of Dale Davis, who'd been released by New Orleans after being traded there by Golden State. He played the final 25 games of the regular season and every playoff game, contributing a strong presence at center. And Davis' signing coincided with an injury to Jermaine O'Neal that would knock him out for virtually the remainder of the regular season—indeed, O'Neal's first missed game due to his injury was Davis' first game back with the Pacers.
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So despite the adversity they'd gone through, the Pacers made the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 years. In the first round, Indiana defeated the Atlantic Division champion Boston Celtics in seven games, winning Game 7 in Boston by the decisive margin of 97-70. The Pacers then advanced to the second-round against the Detroit Pistons, in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. The series featured games back at The Palace of Auburn Hills, the scene of the brawl that many assumed at the time had effectively ended the Pacers' season. After losing game 1, the Pacers won the next next two games to take a 2-1 lead. However, the Pacers could not repeat their victories against the Pistons and lost the next 3 games, losing the series 4-2.
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The final game (game 6) was on May 19, 2005; Reggie Miller, in his final NBA game, scored 27 points and received a huge standing ovation from the crowd. Despite Miller's effort, the Pacers lost, sending Miller into retirement without any NBA Championships in his 18-year career, all with the Pacers. Miller, a future Hall Of Famer, will have his #31 jersey retired by the Pacers sometime during the 2005-06 season.