In honor of Reggie Miller’s induction to the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, I decided to look at one of his most famous achievements. Single handedly beating the Knicks in Madison Square Garden with two 3 point daggers goes down as one of the most clutch playoff performances in professional basketball history.
Amidst the excitement for those shots, it must be pointed out that both teams had melt downs big enough to cause their downfalls. It was if neither team wanted to win the game, and by mental mistake, was willing to simply give it away.
Rarely are the details of the previous 47 minutes discussed when talking about Reggie Miller’s heroics, primarily because had these two teams played like Eastern Conference Semifinalists, it would never have come down to that. Let’s start with the Indiana Pacers, who wrestled with taking control of this game throughout. While both teams shot fairly well, the Pacers ran their offense with more fluidity than the Knicks, and flirted with blowing it wide open in the 3rd quarter when they built their lead to 8 points twice.
But as was the case throughout this Knicks era, New York’s stingy defense would force a turnover and a run out for an easy two points. They simply wore down the Pacers, forcing them into silly turnovers and bad possessions in the fourth quarter. And while Patrick Ewing was having an awful shooting game, he did manage to get Rik Smits into a bit of foul trouble. But more importantly, Ewing was stuck in foul trouble the entire game, unable to stop the Dunking Dutchman’s absolutely monster game (34 pts, 7 rbs, 3 ast).
A crucial mistake was made in the third quarter by New York’s starting point guard Derek Harper, however. In the first half, the referees had made it clear they were not going to accept any type of extra curricular activity, as these two teams were prone to physical confrontation and trash talking. Six technical fouls were called in the opening half alone, so when Harper was fouled hard going to the hoop, it was foolish of him to square off on Antonio Davis. While nothing much happened out of this stare down, it was enough for the referees to assess technicals on both players – both of whom already had one – meaning immediate ejection.
In the short term, it appeared this would have no effect on the Knicks, as Greg Anthony enjoyed his finest playoff moment for the Knicks by nailing two 3 pointers and a couple of nice drives. This gave the Knicks control of the game in the fourth, as the Pacers succumbed to the wilting Madison Square Garden pressure.
With about a minute and a half remaining, the Knicks forced the Pacers into an awful possession, where Mark Jackson gets his 8 footer blocked, and the put back attempt gets blocked as well. As the ball heads towards the sideline, the shot clock is about to expire. Charles Oakley grabs the loose ball in the deep left corner and calls a time out. This was a mistake, since a really heady player would’ve known that it was the Knicks last time out, and letting the ball go out of bounds to the Pacers meant they’d have virtually no time to get a shot off on the ensuing inbounds play.
Up by 8 points going into the final minute, New York lets Reggie Miller get right to the hoop quickly for a foul and two free throws. This possession took only seconds, and factored in greatly to the result of this game. Had the Knicks made the Pacers waste a little more time, things would have been much different.
After another stop by the Pacers, they took the ball out of bounds with 18.7 seconds left, down by 6 points, and here’s where the wheels fell off for the Knickerbockers. First, John Starks plays Reggie Miller on the wrong side of the sideline out of bounds play, getting screened enough to give Reggie Miller some daylight on a step back three pointer from the left wing. Give Reggie credit, Starks got a hand up, and he hit a tough shot.
Up by 3 with 15 seconds to go, the Knicks simply need to get the ball in bounds and past half court. There would be no need for them to shoot the ball, and the Pacers would have to foul. Remember that Oakley time out? Since the Knicks could not call another time out, they had to get the ball in bounds under heavy pressure by the Pacers. As the five seconds ticked down, Anthony Mason started to lose his balance as he started to throw the ball to Anthony, but pulled it back when Anthony crashed to the floor with a little help from Reggie (no foul, natch).
As very smart player would’ve thrown the ball way down the court, or even taken the 5 second call, since it would at least give the Knicks a chance to set up their vaunted defense. Instead, Mason did the only thing possible that would give the Pacers a chance. He gently tossed the ball in bounds, right to Reggie Miller, who quickly ran back to the same spot he just hit a three, and nailed another one. Tie game. The Garden crowd is stunned into silence.
With a tie game and under 10 seconds, the Pacers should have just played defense, gotten a stop, and tried to win in overtime. However, Derrick McKey stupidly fouls John Starks on the inbounds. Let me make this clear: he should NEVER have been pressuring the inbounds pass in the first place. This gave John Starks two free throws to effectively take back the win and simply give Reggie Miller a little footnote to a Knicks’ win.
However, Starks choked on not just the first but the second free throw as well. And here’s where the worst mistakes of the game by both teams happened.
On the second miss, Dale Davis fails to keep Patrick Ewing boxed out, letting Ewing tap the ball to himself for a wide open, game winning 8 foot jump shot from straight away. When his shot bricked off the back rim, Reggie Miller leapt for the rebound, corralling the ball in both hands. Inexplicably, John Starks flies into him, hacking him hard across the arms. Remember, this was a tie game at this point, and with almost no time left on the clock, the Pacers would not have gotten off a good shot. Instead, John Starks loses the game for the Knicks by fouling one of the best free throw shooters of all time.
Reggie promptly hit the two free throws to put the Pacers up by 2. With 7.5 seconds remaining, the Knicks do have time for one last shot to tie and/or win the game. Remember, they still don’t have any time outs (thanks to Oakley), nor do they have their starting point guard Derek Harper. After his heroic play throughout the fourth quarter, Greg Anthony brings the ball up, but it appears the Knicks are disorganized, not sure how to attack. Anthony stupidly wanders towards the right corner, falls down, loses the ball, and the clock expires.
While this game goes down as dramatic, epic, and memorable, it should also be noted that it was fraught with silly mental mistakes befitting a middle school team. Two playoff teams battling in the second round should have been a lot smarter and organized, and the Knicks ultimately paid the price by losing this series in seven games. The fall out? Pat Riley stepped down as Knicks coach, the Pacers got enough experience to key them to a Finals appearance two seasons later, and Reggie will forever be remembered for his 8.9 seconds.