More Miller Magic

by Conrad Brunner

April 21, 2001

PHILADELPHIA, April 21, 2001 - With 11.7 seconds left, facing a two-point deficit, there was really nothing to debate in the Pacers' huddle before the big play, no options to ponder.

''The option,'' said coach Isiah Thomas, ''was to get the ball to Reggie.''

''Get Reggie the ball,'' said Jermaine O'Neal, ''and let him determine it.''

On network television, Bill Walton was talking about Jalen Rose, Travis Best and Miller all being possibilities. Maybe on the planet Waltonia. These are the Indiana Pacers and, when it comes time to go win a playoff game, there is only one choice. In fact, there isn't even any mystery in how he'll wind up with the ball. He'll fake right, cut left, curl off a baseline screen and let fly from the left wing.

Anybody who had other ideas simply hasn't been paying attention the past eight years.

''Oh, I knew it was coming,'' said Miller. ''You guys (the media) knew it was coming. The crowd knew it was coming. The people at home knew it was coming.''

So did the Philadelphia 76ers. But they could do nothing to stop it.

Miller did his thing once again, burying a three-pointer with 2.9 seconds left to lift the Pacers to an improbable 79-78 victory over the 76ers in Game 1 of the best-of-five first-round playoff series on Saturday afternoon in First Union Center. In his tenure with the team, the Pacers have won 58 postseason games.

It only seems like he won 55 of them on last-second shots.

''You've got to give a lot of credit to Austin Croshere. He set a great pick on Allen (Iverson),'' said Miller, verbally walking through that final shot. ''I knew if I had space I was going to be able to shoot over him. And I didn't want to go to overtime because I felt we were dead. We had done enough to get back into the ballgame and take the lead but we couldn't play against them another five minutes. They would've worn us down.

''So either we win, we're clapping and we're out of here, or we lose and we prepare for Game 2. You've got a 50-50 shot, and I like my chances with the ball in my hands. I'll take that.''

Given the course of events prior to that, it seemed like it might be something far less than 50-50 odds. For most of the game, Miller couldn't buy a shot. He missed his first 11 jump shots, scoring only on two breakaway layups. When Philadelphia's lead was 59-42 with 5:20 remaining, he was two of 13 from the field.

But then he started to show signs of life, and the team breathed along with him.

With 3:40 left in the third period, he made his first jump shot - a three-pointer that helped ignite a 16-6 run that sent the Pacers into the fourth period training by just seven points. That momentum carried into the early minutes of the final period as another run, this time 13-4, gave the visitors their first lead of the game, 73-72, with 5:25 left.

''When we were down 17, we were like, 'Oh, God, here we go,' '' said Austin Croshere, ''but Reggie hit that three, we played through it and the next thing you know you're down nine and you've got a chance.''

Though the Pacers would score just two baskets in the final 5:20, both of them were three-pointers by Miller. Even so, it looked like the burden of the otherwise difficult day had caught up with him when he missed two open threes during a frantic possession that produced four shots, all missed, and ended with the 76ers holding a 78-76 lead and 48 seconds remaining.

After Eric Snow missed a jump shot with 26 seconds left, Dikembe Mutombo pulled down the offensive rebound, and the Sixers could've run down most of the clock. They didn't even need to shoot, let alone shoot quickly - but that's just what Aaron McKie did with an ill-advised drive that quickly became Jermaine O'Neal's 20th rebound (a club playoff record) with 11.7 seconds remaining.

That gave Miller, four of 20 from the field to that point, one more chance.

''With a guy like him, you never really worry about what he's done the first 46 minutes of the game,'' said coach Isiah Thomas. ''The last two minutes of the game, he's one of those rare players who has the ability to really concentrate. Anything that's happened the prior 46, he can put out of his mind.''

''We understood he was struggling a little bit but we're willing to put our entire season on his back,'' said O'Neal. ''He could go two-for-30 and still get the last shot and we know he's going to make it. ''

Which, of course, he did. Asked to explain his latest playoff moment, Miller boiled it down to two simple words: ''Shooters shoot.''

It sounds simple enough, perhaps even elementary. And yet it doesn't quite explain Reggie Miller in moments like this.

It would be more accurate to put it this way: winners win.

Contact Conrad Brunner at