Harvey Araton wrote
that basketball star Reggie Miller has "a mouth that can stretch as far as his jump shot range." He might be right. Once, in a game against the New York Knicks, Miller so taunted Knicks guard John Starks that Starks headbutted him. Starks was summarily ejected. That incident took place during Game 3 of the 1993 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals - a series New York would go on to win in 5 games.
The '93 matchup was the first
of several hotly contested meetings between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks during the 1990s. These meetings penultimately earned Pacers star Reggie Miller the nickname, "The Knick Killer." The rivalry - and Miller's performance - are the basis for the recent documentary,"Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs the New York Knicks."
The film is part of ESPN's 30 for 30
Although the rivalry ignited with Starks' headbutt in 1993, it didn't catch fire until the following year when the two teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the series tied at 2 games a piece, a pivotal Game 5 was played in Madison Square Garden. After three quarters, the Knicks had built an impressive 70 - 58 lead. Miller played solid if not exceptional basketball during those first three quarters, contributing 14 points.
Enter director Spike Lee
Spike Lee was a fixture at the Garden during the Knicks era of dominance. He seemed to revel in sitting court side and vocally taunting lesser teams as the Knicks steam-rolled through the league. During that pivotal Game 5, as the 4th quarter began and the Knicks looked as if they would win in convincing fashion, the target of his ire was Reggie Miller.
What, exactly, did he say to Miller?
"Reggie is the king of talk and Spike definitely said something that set him off,
" Pacer power forward Antonio Davis said after the game. "I'm not sure what it was."
Of the incident, Miller would say simply, "Sometimes, he opens his mouth a little bit too much."
What followed is considered by many to be one of the greatest playoff performances of all time
(YT). On the first possession of the 4th quarter, Miller took the ball and drained a 3. A minute later, he did it again. Over the next 12 minutes, the Pacers would outscore the Knicks 35 to 16. Miller would finish the game with 39 points and a dazzling highlight reel of long-distance jumpers. He scored 25 points in the 4th, including 5
As the game slipped away from the Knicks, Miller and Lee continued to trade barbs
(YT). Late in the 4th, as Miller jogged down the court after draining a 3, he turned to Spike, and held up four fingers. Then he mock-choked himself. He also grabbed his crotch. It was a clear (albeit vulgar) message from Miller - the Knicks were choking away the game and the series. Lee protested to a nearby referee to call a foul. As he was not a player, he was unsuccessful.
He could only look on, dejected, as Miller continued the show.
After the game, Pacers' coach Larry Brown would call it a special performance.
New York Knicks player Charles Oakley would say
, "I haven't seen anything like that since Michael."
The New York Post's headline the next day read, "Thanks a Lot, Spike." (I wish I could have found a scan of this, but I came up with nothing.
New York would go on to win the series in 7 games, but Miller's Game 5 performance is the lasting memory. Miller and Spike Lee would reuinte a day after that game 7 loss on, of all places, the Late Show with David Letterman.
Today, the two have put the past behind them. Sort of. In a recent interview
with ABC News about the ESPN documentary, Miller said, "We've somewhat mended fences. Spike, I consider you a [pause] good friend. Thank you very much for your participation in this movie. Next time, drinks are on you."
The Knicks and Pacers would meet again in 1995. This time, it would be the Pacers who would win in 7 games, again behind a strong performance from Miller. In the waning seconds of the first game, Miller orchestrated "the most amazing late-game turnaround that anyone involved had ever witnessed.
" In fact, ESPN would include it
on their list of 100 most memorable moments of the past 25 years. With 18.7 seconds left on the clock, the Knicks led by 6 points and expected victory. Instead, Reggie Miller scored 8 points in those 18.7 seconds
(YT) on two 3-pointers and two free throws to give the Pacers an improbable 107-105 victory.
"I can't remember something like that,
" [coach Larry] Brown said. "It's a state of disbelief because I never imagined that one, we would come down and get back in the game, and two, win it in regulation. We outscore them, 8-0, with 18 seconds to go. It's amazing."
"Things weren't looking so good,
" Miller admitted. "But in the game of basketball, it's never over until the horn goes off."
From the ESPN story
Miller, in one of the most blatant acts of trash talking in history, proclaims on national TV that the Pacers -- who had been eliminated from the playoffs the previous two seasons by the Knicks -- would now likely sweep the Knicks. He then dashes inside the tunnel to the Indiana locker room, shouting, "Choke artists! Choke artists!" -- a phrase that was splashed across the sports pages of the New York tabloids the following morning.
Only Miller, the King of Clutch, the King of Bravado, the guy who had stunned the Knicks the previous year with a 25-point, fourth-quarter explosion in a Game 5 conference finals victory, could get the Knicks crowd in such a frenzy. "The Knicks, New York, and Madison Square Garden," Miller says today, "bring out the best in me. Always has. It lights a fire inside of me. There's nothing I want more than to beat them on their stage, to steal their show. I got great enjoyment from it."
What's so remarkable about Miller's astonishing eight-point, nine-second sequence is the moment after the steal of the inbounds pass. "What shocked me was that Reggie had the presence of mind to not take a quick two-point shot and instead took one dribble and got back behind the 3-point line to shoot a three," Larry Brown, the ex-Pacers coach, would say years later. "That takes an amazing athlete to do that, a guy who literally has ice in his veins, a guy who loves the pressure and is willing to face the consequences if he doesn't make the shot."
Just why did Miller pass up the easy two and instead dribble out past the 3-point stripe to launch another three? Miller would smile and say, "I wanted to drive a stake through their heart."
The Pacers and Knicks rivalry would continue on in playoff battles until early 2003, when Knicks' star Patrick Ewing would retire. Miller would follow him a few years later. The series would never match the intensity of the 94 and 95 seasons.