All December long the Back Home Again staff will be recounting the Top 25 Reggie Miller Moments of all-time as part of our “25 Days of Reggie.” The countdown will serve as a great way to get geared up for the start of the 2011 NBA season (and Christmas) as we remember and honor one of the NBA’s most clutch performers and the Indiana Pacers’ greatest player ever.
In 2000, Reggie Miller finally got over the hump. (The 2000 playoff run was truly a magical ride. Refer to these previous posts regarding the 1st round and conference semifinal series: here and here.) Miller and the Pacers reached their first NBA Finals ever after defeating their arch-nemesis New York Knicks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the Finals, the Pacers faced off against one of the most dominant teams in recent memory. The Los Angeles Lakers entered the Finals after a regular season in which they won 67 games (a tie for the 5th best record ever). The team consisted of two of the best players of all-time: Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant and was coached by the legendary Phil Jackson. As you can see, the Pacers were faced with an incredibly tall task and were colossal underdogs. It was a Hoosiersesque* set up: (and life couldn’t be more exciting for an 11-year-old Pacer fan, by the way) the small market farm boys versus the heavily favored big city slickers with the big names. Miller Time vs. Showtime. Reggie Miller Superman vs. Shaq Superman. If only the series would have ended the same way Hickory vs. South Bend Central did. The veteran Indiana squad battled hard and pushed the series to a Game 6, but the young and talented Lakers were just too much. Unfortunately, life – unlike the movies – doesn’t always produce fairy tale endings.
June 11, 2000: Reggie’s best game in a winning effort came in Game 3. Miller dropped a game-high 33 points to lead the Pacers to their first win of the series. Reggie played all but two minutes in the game as he shot 50% from the field including two made 3’s. He also went 9-9 from the charity stripe including a clutch 8-8 in the final quarter. The Pacer’s needed this win desperately as they were already down 0-2 in the series. Kobe Bryant did not play due to an ankle injury that he sustained in Game 2, and Indiana took full advantage of his absence winning 100-91 in front of a frenzied Conseco Fieldhouse crowd. The Pacers really controlled the entire game at one point leading by 17.
Miller actually had a higher scoring output in Game 4 (35 points – including 6-9 from deep), but unfortunately his game winning three point attempt was just a few inches short in the closing seconds of overtime. Game 4 was an absolute classic and is considered one of the best NBA Finals games of all-time (watch the NBA on NBC Game 4 intro here – trust me it’s outstanding). It was an overtime thriller in which Reggie battled back in forth with Kobe (who was playing on one ankle) while a fouled-out-Shaq watched from the bench. In the end, Kobe showed why he will go down as one of the greatest ever (watch the final two minutes of Game 4 here). It hurts to think what could have been if Reggie’s last second game winning three point attempt would have fell in (and man, it looked like it was right on). The series would have been tied 2-2, and the Pacers would have had an unreal amount of momentum with another home game forthcoming. The shot would have become (arguably) the greatest in Reggie history. The Conseco crowd would have completely lost its collective shit. It would have been the best day of my young life. Everything in Miller’s entire career had been building up to that one shot – that one moment. That was the shot he was born to make. Everyone knew that shot was going in…. but it didn’t. It just didn’t…… and we’ll never know why…..
What if Reggie’s shot had a few more inches on it, what if Aaron Bailey had squeezed a little bit tighter, what if Hummel’s knee hadn’t exploded (twice), what if Hank Baskett could catch, what if Gordon Bombay scores on that penalty shot**, what if, what if, what if……….. the life of a sports fan.
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*Footnote 1: The opening scene to Hoosiers (linked above) is easily one of the best in cinema history. It’s very simple, yes, but there’s something about it that gives me goosebumps all over. It’s inexplicably perfect.
**Footnote 2: All this “the shot was off by only a few inches” talk reminds me of one of the most influential films of my young life – The Mighty Ducks. As we all know (I hope), young Gordon Bombay misses on a penalty shot (off the post) costing the Hawks the 1973 Minnesota Pee Wee State Championship. Later in the film he bemoans what could have been while talking with Charlie Conway, Bombay’s protege and the next generation Minnesota pee wee hockey star. “A few inches the other way, and we would have won.” Twenty years later, a pee wee hockey blunder from his youth still bothers the guy this much? – man they love their hockey up in Minnesota. Anyways, at the end of the movie young Conway is placed in the same position Bombay was twenty years earlier – a penalty shot opportunity to win the State Championship. Bombay gives us all some perspective as he talks to Charlie before the shot:
You may make it. You may not. But that doesn’t matter, Charlie. What matters is that we’re here. Look around. Who ever thought we’d make it this far. 1 2 3 Triple Deke. Take your best shot. I believe in you, Charlie. Win or lose.
Reggie, like Bombay, didn’t make his shot, but what matters is that the Pacers made it to the NBA Finals. Who ever thought we’d make it that far? Reggie took his best shot, and we believed in him. Win or Lose.