By Steve Borgquist
The eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks seem poised and ready for battle as they prepare to take on the Indiana Pacers in the final game of quarterfinal play.
The Bucks have surprised many by beating the Pacers by 13 points in game two and game four. The Bucks have put many critics to rest after exhibiting play equal to that of a top-seeded and experienced playoff team.
The Bucks have also held two 31-point leads against the Pacers, which is unprecedented in a No. 1 vs. No. 8 series.
“Maybe they’re not a one and maybe we’re not an eight,” Bucks Coach George Karl told CBS Tuesday.
Milwaukee, who rallied on a desperate late-season lunge to even make the playoffs, is hoping to become the third eighth-seeded team to make such an upset.
Being an eighth-seeded team on the road playing in a final game may be disheartening for many, but the Bucks can take comfort in other unlikely success stories.
Eighth-seeded Denver upset top-seeded Seattle in 1994 and the Knicks defeated the Heat last year, both eighth-seeded teams won on the road in game five.
Ray Allen of the Milwaukee Bucks, who led his team to victory on Monday by scoring 20 points, is optimistic about game five on the road.
“There’s no reason for us to drop back now, Allen said. “We’ve got to keep charging. People didn’t think we’d be here, but we are. I’ll just tell everybody to remember on Thursday that this is a team we can beat.”
The discouragement of two losses seems to be weighing on the Pacers, and has surfaced in the form of nasty cheap shots.
After game two was wrapped up for Milwaukee, Rik Smits launched a bloodthirsty elbow at Ervin Johnson’s face and drew a one-game suspension. In game four, Dale Davis trounced Scott Williams from behind on a lay-up attempt, receiving a flagrant foul.
Indiana Coach Larry Bird said that the game was physical and had his players on their toes the entire night.
“We’re playing against a team with a lot of confidence, Bird said after game four. “We have to play hard and play defense, and the best team will win game five.”
Despite the game four trouble and obvious aggravation of the Pacers, they stand self-assured with home court in game five.
Two hot shooting guards Jalen Rose and Reggie Miller add confidence as well. Rose and Miller have scored 81 and 80 total playoff points and are major threats at three-point range.
Although Ray Allen stands as the only player on the Bucks to break 80 points so far in the series, the Bucks will need more than just Allen to show up on Thursday if they expect a win on the road.
Bird, who may be coaching his final game in game five, has made the decision to retire regardless of the Pacers’ playoff outcome.
He seems more determined than ever to come off with a win.
“This is my last chance to get these guys to the finals, Bird said. “That’s all I want. I want them to get there, because I know when you get to the finals anything can happen. You just roll the dice.”
The team on top after tonight’s final game will go on to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to face a primed Philadelphia 76ers team.