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.
Finally, we come to perhaps the most well known Miller Moment of them all. The playoff series that created the legend that is Miller Time. The 1994 Eastern Conference Finals: Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks.
Much has been made about the Pacers vs. Knicks rivalry which began in the 1993 playoffs, intensified in the 1994 playoffs, climaxed in 1995 and then was rekindled in the late 1990’s. Tales have been told, books have been written, documentaries have been made (including perhaps the best ESPN 30 for 30), and all for good reason. These series were incredibly competitive and entertaining, and some of the things Reggie did in the games were beyond memorable. I know we’re homers here at BHA, but can you think of any playoff series from the 90s that get more nostalgic play from the media than these? There might be a few involving Jordan or perhaps the old Knicks vs. Heat bloodbaths, but that’s about it. These Reggie vs. Knicks series get all that attention for a reason, and much of it stems from the feud that escalated between Miller and Spike Lee during the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. The night ‘Reggie Miller’ finally became a household name.
June 1, 1994 – Eastern Conference Finals Game 5: Entering the series, the Knicks were heavily favored as the #2 seed in the East playing the suprise #5 seeded Pacers. After the first four games of the series, both teams had held serve at their home courts. The series was knotted at 2-2 going into Game 5 in New York at Maison Square Garden. Fast forward to the start of the fourth quarter where the Knicks had a commanding 70-58 lead. It looked like the Pacers were on the verge of losing and going down 3-2 in the series, when it happened. Miller caught fire and turned in one of the most incredible fourth quarter shooting performances of all-time. First, Miller caught a pass on the left wing from Dale Davis and rattled in a deep three to cut the lead to 9. After making the first shot, Reggie began chirping with some people in the front row (namely Spike Lee). I’m not sure what Spike originally said to Reggie, but whatever it was, it awoke a monster. Really, it was the equivalent to lighting up a cigarette at a gasoline fight. The next thing Spike knew, MSG was up in smoke.
Reggie followed that first home run up with another three from the right side off of an inbound play and then hit an off balance jumper at the elbow with a defender draped all over him. After each shot, the intensity of his sideline banter escalated (as did the intensity of his stone cold glare). As Haywood Workman was making two free throws to tie the game up at 72, Reggie continued yelling at Spike eventually flashing him a two-handed choke sign and then the infamous one-handed choke combined with the nut grab*. This 5-10 seconds interaction between free throws would elevate Reggie to a whole new level of stardom here in the States. Reggie would follow this sequence up with his most ridiculous shot of the game. With John Starks all over him, Reggie pulled up from a silly distance (at least 27 feet from the basket) and drained a three bomb in Johnny’s eye. Pat Riley immediately called a timeout, and Reggie just stopped at half court and glared daggers at Spike. At this point in the quarter, the Pacers had outscored the Knicks 17-2.
The scoring barrage would continue for the rest of the quarter. The Pacers would end up winning Game 5 93-86 behind 25 incredible fourth quarter Miller points including 5 cold blooded threes. Reggie finished with 39 points total for the game. Highlights of the quarter can be enjoyed here (just let the magic wash over you).
It was after this virtuoso performance that Reggie became a star in the NBA. He proved that even though he was a skinny little guy, he was a fighter who wouldn’t back down from anyone. Spike Lee awoke an absolute monster that night. A monster that every team in the league would fear in the fourth quarter for the rest of Miller’s career.
*Footnote: The one-hand-choke-nut-grab was a cultural dynamo here in the Indy area. Much to our parents dismay, us kids would be clutching our throats and grabbing our nuts at recess and on driveways throughout our childhood years. The effects have even carried over into our college years. There’s no better feeling than draining a cup in beer pong then giving your opponent the Spike Lee treatment. It’s an ultimate sign of disrespect. I even dug up a breakfast club picture of myself to show you what I mean. Be careful what you let your kids see during their formative years. Some of that stuff will stick forever.