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The Knick Killer
November 18, 2010 7:03 AM   Subscribe

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 lineup.

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 three-pointers.

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.
posted by kbanas (46 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome post.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:08 AM on November 18, 2010


I had no idea about any of this as I don't really follow the NBA. Really awesome stuff.
posted by josher71 at 7:22 AM on November 18, 2010


Thank you for posting this.

I'm not so interested in most sports that I'd watch an average game, but I really appreciate seeing an amazing play (like the Music City Miracle) or performance (Kobe Bryant's 81). Thank you for introducing me to two more.
posted by The Confessor at 7:26 AM on November 18, 2010


Knick Killer my ass. The Knicks and Pacers played each other 6 times in the playoffs from 93-00. The Knicks won 4, the Pacers 2.
posted by JPD at 7:29 AM on November 18, 2010


I'm not a huge Knicks fan, or even a basketball fan, but having grown up as a sports fan in NYC in the 90's (I was 12 in '94), just thinking about Reggie Miller makes me mad. I can't think of a single athlete who enraged an entire city more than he did over those couple of years, and watching that documentary when it aired brought it all right back.

Having said that, I will grudgingly admit that the performances he put up ove those years are among the most amazing I've seen in any sport.

P.S. If you have a chance to see the documentary, stay tuned after the credits to see the Knicks revenge for '95. :)
posted by hobgadling at 7:33 AM on November 18, 2010


Great post. The first 15 of the 30 for 30 documentaries come out in a few weeks; you can pre-order from amazon for $50. They're surely on my christmas list.
posted by Kwine at 7:37 AM on November 18, 2010


Really, if you are interested in this subject, just watch the documentary.
posted by smackfu at 7:49 AM on November 18, 2010


Excellent Write-up. I was transported to Meta Sports Filter!

Can't wait to get home and check out the videos.
posted by mmrtnt at 7:55 AM on November 18, 2010


The 30 for 30 series is fantastic.

My favorite anecdote from the Reggie Miller one was this:

[Reggie] tells the story of the night he had his best high school game. He scored 40 something, and his team won. His dad and sister gave him a ride home, and asked how things went. He bragged a little. They were just grinning. Reggie was confused. What? Why weren't they saying anything? What were they holding back? Did she score 60 or something? Turned out she had scored 105 that night. If had hair left to tear out, he would have done so in the re-telling, when he declared "you can't win!" growing up in a house like that.

As great as Reggie was compared to his peers, his sister was even better compared to hers, maybe the best female basketball player ever.
posted by callmejay at 7:56 AM on November 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I hate both the Knicks and Reggie Miller, but this is an outstanding post.

The '30 for 30' documentaries put out by ESPN are all amazing; here's the Amazon link that Kwine refers to above. It gets Metafiltered so you're supporting Mefi by buying it this way, I believe. Definitely some of the very best television available even if you don't follow sports.
posted by felix at 7:57 AM on November 18, 2010


Yep. Those were some fun years to be a Rockets fan...
posted by Navelgazer at 7:58 AM on November 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a Knicks fan of the Ewing years (around when this rivalry was happening in the 90s) I also remember being at the Garden for Pacers' games and hearing a taunting shout fill the stadium:

Cheryl! Cheryl!! Only it was drawn out in long syllables, so it sounded like the way the crowd will shout "Airball!" to taunt an opposing team.

CHER-YL! cHE---RYL!

Cheryl Miller is Reggie's sister. She played college ball and some pro ball and is a sportscaster now.

Great post, brings back memories of when watching the Knicks didn't make me want to hide away in shame. Now? I watch women's NCAA ball. The gameplay and coaches are more fun. Even without Spike Lee, alas.
posted by SaharaRose at 7:59 AM on November 18, 2010


Cheryl Miller is great. I learned a lot about her while writing this post, and I was really impressed with pretty much every single thing I learned about her.

Someone could make a great post about Cheryl. She was an incredible player and is a great attribute to TNT's basketball coverage. I thought it was cool that Reggie announced his retirement directly to her on the air.
posted by kbanas at 8:04 AM on November 18, 2010


I mean calling Miller the Knick killer is an insult to Jordan. Riley and the Knicks basically destroyed the NBA for a decade play-wise in an effort to come up with someway to beat the Bulls and never got it done when Jordan was around. The Pacers were always the Knicks-lite during those years, with an even streakier off guard.
posted by JPD at 8:14 AM on November 18, 2010


Great post. I watched playoff basketball from a distance back then, and the sequence where Miller scored 8 points in 18.7 seconds is etched in my brain. When he drained a 3, then promptly stole the inbounds pass and hit another 3...I've watched a lot of team sports, but I don't think I've seen one player single-handedly dismantle a whole team like that.

It's really fascinating to ponder how Miller would have performed without Spike Lee jawing at him.

As an aside, speaking of basketball documentaries, if you haven't seen the HBO doc on Magic and Bird, you are missing out. It is absolutely riveting, even if you're not a basketball fan.
posted by dry white toast at 8:18 AM on November 18, 2010


I mean calling Miller the Knick killer is an insult to Jordan.

Miller was *a* Knick killer. One of several, it seems. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:19 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Miller was *a* Knick killer. One of several, it seems. ;)


losing more series than you won does not make one a Knick killer.
posted by JPD at 8:26 AM on November 18, 2010


The '30 for 30' documentaries put out by ESPN are all amazing;

True at the start, but some of the recent ones have been pretty awful or pedestrian.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 AM on November 18, 2010



losing more series than you won does not make one a Knick killer.


I don't think it's about the series' record. In my mind, anyway, it was (among other things) the moments I highlight above where Miller kind of single-handily deflated an entire franchise, moreso than the actual outcome of those playoff bouts.
posted by kbanas at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2010


This is great stuff - I hated the 90s Knicks, especially John Starks, and as a Houstonian, their loss in the 1994 NBA finals to the Rockets in seven games was exquisite. But when the Rockets weren't winning, watching Reggie Miller beat the Knicks was always fun, and his slapdown of Spike Lee is an all time favorite sports moment.
posted by thewittyname at 8:44 AM on November 18, 2010


In my mind, anyway, it was (among other things) the moments I highlight above where Miller kind of single-handily deflated an entire franchise

Much of your post is about game 5 in '94. The knicks franchise was evidently deflated enough to win that series in 7.
posted by JPD at 8:46 AM on November 18, 2010


losing more series than you won does not make one a Knick killer.

Without Miller it wouldn't have even been close.
posted by symbollocks at 8:48 AM on November 18, 2010


Actually I changed my mind. The real Knick Killer is Jimmy Dolan.
posted by JPD at 8:48 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I saw this at Sundance this year, before it was bought by ESPN for their doc series. It was so hilarious and fun, and the director was a great sport and had some fantastic anecdotes about the players and his background watching basketball at the time. He was actually at a few of these games, so this is sort of a love poem to the whole experience of being a young sports fan. As an NBA fanatic, it pleased me to the core.

(also, don't sleep on the Knicks this season, I predict amare carrying them at least into the 2nd round just on the element of surprise.)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:51 AM on November 18, 2010


have you seen them play yet this year, potomac? yikes. consider me aslumber.
posted by Kwine at 8:57 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Surprise is their chief weapon after all.
posted by Mister_A at 8:59 AM on November 18, 2010


OK, my favorite taunting anecdote is some classic sledging in cricket:

Australian bowler Glenn McGrath to Zimbabwean batsman Eddo Brandes:

McGrath: "Why are you so fat?"

Brandes: "Because every time I make f**k your wife, she gives me a biscuit."
posted by MuffinMan at 9:01 AM on November 18, 2010


Winning Time is a great documentary. But you have to stick around for the last line, which is classic.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:04 AM on November 18, 2010


have you seen them play yet this year, potomac? yikes. consider me aslumber.
posted by Kwine


Wait the season started? Nope just checked the calender, it's not March yet. :p
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:19 AM on November 18, 2010


Great post, I had no idea about this but I love a good sports rivalry.
posted by dobie at 9:36 AM on November 18, 2010


Knick Killer my ass. The Knicks and Pacers played each other 6 times in the playoffs from 93-00. The Knicks won 4, the Pacers 2.

actually, it was 3-3 .... pacers lost in '93, '94, and '99 ... pacers won in '95, '98, and '00
posted by beukeboom at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


In terms of pure volume alone, the amount I hate the NBA is matched by the amount I love this post.
posted by absalom at 10:36 AM on November 18, 2010


I think the better way to think of Reggie Miller vs. the Knicks is not that he was a Knick killer, but that he became a Basketball God when he played them, which was amazing to watch. He wasn't like Jordan, who was a hoops god who lived on Mt. Olympus pretty much all the time, but rather a a mortal who ascended to godhood from time to time against the Knicks. He was (as much as a Hall of Fame player can be) one of us.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:40 AM on November 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always thought misty-eyed glorification of previous sporting generations was pretty obnoxious, but as I get older I can't help but feel that the NBA of the early 90's was really the best time for the league.

It's probably because I that's when I was an adolescent, but the cast of characters was truly something. Every year seemed to bring at least one amazing playoff series. You had the Knicks vs. the Heat, the Knicks vs. the Pacers, the Spurs vs. the Rockets. And then above it all the spectre of Jordan and the Bulls. And you had guys like Miller, who seemed to revel in pissing off an entire city.

I know it's getting into get off my lawn territory, and my opinion is skewed because I was a kid in the early 90's, but today's stars just seem too self-absorbed (Kobe) or too concerned with their personal brand management (James, Howard, Wade) to risk being interesting.
posted by mcmile at 10:50 AM on November 18, 2010


A few thoughts:

1. After listening to Reggie speak on TNT broadcasts, I can see how trash talk from his scrawny, gawky self would be the most infuriating thing ever.

2. Isn't Charles Smith the ultimate Knick killer? (Zing!)

3. The ultimate "Clutch Reggie Miller" moment (for me at least) was him gliding towards an uncontested, game-tying layup in the last minute of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons. Then Tayshaun happened. (Does anyone know where to find a clip of the original game footage? The over-dramatized replay doesn't show how much ground Tayshaun made up just to get near Reggie, let alone block his layup without goal tending or committing a foul. Also, Mike Breen's call is perfect.)
posted by Turkey Glue at 11:25 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


3. The ultimate "Clutch Reggie Miller" moment (for me at least) was him gliding towards an uncontested, game-tying layup in the last minute of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons. Then Tayshaun happened. (Does anyone know where to find a clip of the original game footage? The over-dramatized replay doesn't show how much ground Tayshaun made up just to get near Reggie, let alone block his layup without goal tending or committing a foul. Also, Mike Breen's call is perfect.)

I'm a Pistons fan and I remember this moment vividly. I still don't really understand how Tay was able to get back in time to block that shot. It seems impossible.
posted by kbanas at 11:37 AM on November 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. After listening to Reggie speak on TNT broadcasts, I can see how trash talk from his scrawny, gawky self would be the most infuriating thing ever.

After listening to Reggie speak on TNT broadcasts, then hearing his sister on the same broadcasts, I realize how much more awesome she is than he. ;)
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:18 PM on November 18, 2010


Knick Killer my ass. The Knicks and Pacers played each other 6 times in the playoffs from 93-00.

JPD, the thing is, even if the Knicks ended up winning the series, the first thing people think of from that series is Miller eviscerating the Knicks. It was his moment, and I'm sorry if your team happened to be on the other end of it, but he was a god that night. If you want, though, feel free to focus on, say, Starks dunking over the Bulls team. Probably a pretty good memory for you, even if, y'know, they still lost.

Miller's explosion was later echoed by Tracy McGrady we he scored 13 points in 35 seconds to help the Rockets come from behind to beat the Spurs in the playoffs. (The Free Darko Basketball Almanac had a great breakdown of the sequence)
posted by Ghidorah at 3:29 PM on November 18, 2010


Ray Allen is getting close to Reggie's three point record.

Go Celtics!
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 4:45 PM on November 18, 2010


Thanks for this post. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I can't wait to dig in later.
posted by tyrantkitty at 5:07 PM on November 18, 2010


i'm willing to look like a jackass here...am i missing the whole documentary somewhere? is my impatience and excitement to see this causing me to overlook the obvious?
posted by rainperimeter at 7:27 PM on November 18, 2010


unfortunately, no. the documentary isn't available online, as far as I know.
posted by kbanas at 7:28 PM on November 18, 2010


the link to the documentary on espn.com does show upcoming air dates, however.
posted by kbanas at 7:29 PM on November 18, 2010


The documentary is available, if you're willing to use bittorrent. The whole series is available, and worth checking out, I've heard. Haven't gotten around to it yet, but since it'll never get broadcast in Japan, that's probably my only way to get around to it.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:51 PM on November 18, 2010


It's $5 on iTunes, which seems pretty reasonable.
posted by smackfu at 7:59 PM on November 18, 2010


thanks y'all. i don't have cable so i'll torrent it. exciting!
posted by rainperimeter at 9:05 PM on November 18, 2010


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