Indiana Pacers: The Slow Recovery from the Malice at the Palace

HJ MaiCorrespondent IIJune 2, 2011

The first NBA game I’ve ever seen was Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals between the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers.

The Bulls were leading the series 2-1 and led 94-93 with 2.9 seconds to play. Indiana had possession and inbounded the ball at midcourt. Pacers superstar Reggie Miller got the ball and didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

SWISH! THREE POINTS BY REGGIE MILLER. The Pacers grabbed a two-point lead with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. They tied the series at two games apiece.

This was the defining moment that made me an Indiana Pacers and Reggie Miller fan. (By the way, the Bulls won the series in seven games.)

Between 1994 and 2004, the Pacers reached the Eastern Conference finals six times and the NBA Finals once. The rivalry between the Knicks and the Pacers in the 1990s is legendary.

So what happened after the 2004/2005 season? Why did Indiana miss the playoffs for four straight years between 2007 and 2010?

The downfall of the Pacers started in Detroit—to be more precise, in Auburn Hills. It was Nov. 19, 2004. The Indiana Pacers played against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

With less than one minute left in the game, Pacers forward Ron Artest fouled Pistons center Ben Wallace, which resulted in a fight between the players. Ron Artest, who received a technical foul, was sitting on the judges’ table when a cup thrown from the stands hit him in the face.

Artest just went nuts and started beating the guy who threw the cup.

More Pacers players came to help Artest and were fighting with the crowd. “The Malice at the Palace,” as the media called the brawl, resulted in a record-breaking suspension of nine players for a total of 146 games.

This incident and the retirement of Reggie Miller sent the Pacers on a downward spiral towards the bottom of the NBA. Rebuilding the franchise and forming a team that is able to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference characterized the last four seasons.

Danny Granger, one of the best small forwards in the NBA, was drafted by the Pacers as the 17th overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft. Since then, President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird has tried to create a supporting cast for Granger to get the Pacers back in the hunt for an NBA championship.

The 2010/2011 season proved that the team from Indy is on the right track. They made their first trip to the NBA playoffs since ’06, where they lost their first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls in five hard-fought games.