Reggie Makes Final Appearance in Garden

By Conrad Brunner

This being the occasion of Reggie Miller's final appearance in a legendary building that has been little more than his personal playpen for the past decade, Rick Carlisle was asked if he might go out of his way to get his 39-year-old shooting guard a few extra shots.

"You mean," he said with a smile, "more than we're doing now?"

His question in response to the question held a profound answer.

In recent years, Carlisle might have to come up with a new or altered gameplan to get Miller more involved. Now, however, productivity from Miller is not an option. When he takes the Madison Square Garden stage for the last time Tuesday night, he will do so as a primary option in the offense and go-to scorer in the clutch.

In other words, he will finish as he started, right in the middle of the spotlight.

"I understand a lot of the anticipation of that game and that situation but in our present situation I don't see where it would make sense to approach it any differently than we have been doing in the last 15 games," said Carlisle. "In our first 10 possessions, he's going to touch it at least six times, probably more, and he's going to have every opportunity to get into the flow of the game. Our team understands where the ball needs to go and who it needs to go through and even if Reggie isn't getting a lot of shots, his movements and activity on the court are making things happen that open it up for other guys.

"If our team was structured differently and we had all our guys, maybe we'd go out of our way and do some things to get him some more shots early if we had Jermaine (O'Neal) and Ronnie (Artest) and (Jamaal) Tinsley. But the way we're set up right now, he's going to be touching it whether he wants to or not."

In the 15 games since O'Neal became the latest casualty, going down for the rest of the regular season with a shoulder injury, Miller has turned back the clock, averaging 20.0 points while attempting 13.3 shots per game. In his 40 previous appearances, Miller averaged 12.1 points and 9.4 shots.

His playing time hasn't really changed (31.9 minutes in the first 40 games, 31.4 in the last 15) but his role has, leading many to wonder how he can stick to his plan to walk away from the game after this season. But he is steadfast in his decision; barring a miraculous finish that would land the Knicks in the playoffs, this will be his final appearance as a player in the Garden.

"There's no way for any of us to really know the kind of energy and determination that it takes at age 39 to put out there on the floor what he puts out there," Carlisle said. "I can safely say this, there have only been a few guys that have played at that age that have played at this level – Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parish and Karl Malone. You're talking about rare air, maybe five guys in the history of the league.

"I don't think you can make a case that any of them have done it at as consistently a high level as what Reggie's doing now. This is unbelievable what's happening because we've all been able to witness so many magical moments on almost a nightly basis with him. And yet, even at age 39, it's something he is making look routine. But I can promise you it isn't."

Making the spectacular look routine became a habit for Miller in the Garden, particularly in the playoffs, where he used filmmaker Spike Lee as his foil.

  • In Miller's first postseason game there in 1993, he scored 32 in a first-round loss. In Game 3 of that series, he so frustrated his Knicks rival that John Starks head-butted him midway through the third quarter, drawing an ejection that helped the Pacers pull out their only victory of the series.
  • In 1994, he scored 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Pacers to victory and a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. In Game 7, he scored 25 points but missed a 3-pointer in the closing seconds, then was called for a controversial flagrant foul against Starks (by official Mike Mathis) to seal the defeat.
  • The following year, he opened the conference semifinals by scoring eight points in an 8.9-second span to eliminate a six-point deficit and give the Pacers a stunning victory. He then scored 29 in Game 7 as the Pacers closed out the series in the Garden.
  • In 1998, he scored 38 points in Game 4 of the conference semis, including a 3-pointer that forced overtime and the Pacers went on to win and take a 3-1 series lead. They closed it out in Game 5 as Miller scored 24.
  • The capper came in Game 6 of the 2000 conference finals when he scored 34 points – 17 in the fourth quarter - as the Pacers eliminated the Knicks to secure their first-ever berth in the NBA Finals. It was Miller's ninth game of at least 30 points against the Knicks in the playoffs.
  • "There's no doubt the synergy is there between Reggie and Madison Square Garden, but the other thing you've got to remember is there have been a lot of playoff series between these two teams," said Carlisle. "With all the times that they've played, there was going to be more opportunity for big moments.

    "Somehow, Reggie has parlayed these unbelievable moments along with this rivalry with Spike Lee into a legendary happening that still lives. It's one of the more intriguing relationships that there's ever been in this league."

    Given his history there, it would be understandable if the Knicks and their fans went out of their way to give Miller a rude farewell. That may not be the case, however.

    "I think this might be the only time they don't boo him," Knicks guard Allan Houston told the New York Post. "Honestly, they have a respect for what he's done, especially in that gym. Not too many people can come in and do what he's done in that building. It's almost like a home for him. I think they'll show respect for them."

    Houston and Starks both defined Miller as the toughest opponent to cover; considering both spent years battling Michael Jordan, it is a high compliment.

    "It was just like everybody else was playing on the road and he was playing at home," Houston told The Post. "At the Garden, it didn't feel like you were at home guarding him. It felt like he had a white uniform and everybody else had on blue."

    White uniform? Miller would prefer a black hat, befitting a legendary gunslinger.