Legends profile: Reggie Miller
A volatile, high-voltage scorer from the off guard position, Reggie Miller was one of the supreme shooters of any era. With 2,560 made 3-pointers, he ended his career as the NBA’s greatest long range shooter. He poured in 25,279 points to finish his career in 12th place on league’s all-time scoring list.
Since his retirement, he’s been surpassed by Ray Allen as the NBA’s all-time 3-point king and has moved down several pegs on the all-time scoring list. Still, his legend looms large.
Miller had a penchant for the spectacular clutch shot in gunslinger fashion that made him a feared and despised opponent. His heroic play down the stretch of games became known as “Miller Time.”
The slender 6-foot-7, 190-pound former UCLA Bruin was selected with the 11th overall pick at the 1987 Draft by the Indiana Pacers. He spent his entire 18-year career there, becoming another legendary figure in Hoosier state lore.
At UCLA, he ranked fourth in the nation in scoring as a junior with 25.9 ppg and then averaged 22.3 ppg as a senior. At the time he was drafted, he also ranked second on the school’s all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the stick-figured shooter was not welcomed as the home state fans desired Indiana University’s All-American guard Steve Alford.
However, Miller played more games with the same team than all but two players in NBA history — John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz. Miller would also lead the Pacers from futility to The Finals and many postseason escapades. Much of his playoff drama would involve his most intense rival, the New York Knicks, and take place on one of the NBA’s biggest stages: Madison Square Garden.
He came from a very athletic family. His older brother, Darrell, played five seasons as a catcher/outfielder with the Los Angeles Angels. His sister, Cheryl, was a basketball star at USC and is considered one of the best woman players ever. However, Miller had a portentous start to a professional athletic career.
Born with a hip deformity that caused severely splayed feet, he wore leg braces until he was four to correct the birth defect. Doctors questioned if he would ever walk unassisted. The braces came off when he was five and Miller made up for lost time in trying to keep up with his athletic brothers and sisters.
Once in the NBA, Miller didn’t waste any time logging himself into the record books. He broke an eight-year-old mark set by Larry Bird when he hit 61 three-pointers in 1987-88, more than any other rookie in NBA history (Dennis Scott would shatter the mark by hitting 125 three-pointers in 1990-91).
Miller averaged 10.0 ppg his first season, shooting .488 from the field and .355 from 3-point range. He only started one game and backed up veteran John Long, but he was the only Pacer to play in all 82 games that season.
In his second season, Miller’s scoring average rose to 16.0 ppg and lead Indiana with 93 steals. But it wasn’t until 1989-90 when he truly took off.
Miller’s scoring average soared for the second straight season, this time to a career-high 24.6 ppg — eighth best in the NBA. Miller’s perpetual motion and ability to weave through and around multiple picks and screens made defending him an obstacle course of activity.
He became the first Pacer to play in the NBA All-Star Game since Don Buse and Billy Knight in 1977. He also was the runner-up to the Miami Heat’s Rony Seikaly for the NBA Most Improved Player Award.
Indiana reached the NBA Playoffs in 1990 for the first time in Miller’s career, but it was a brief visit. The defending-champion Detroit Pistons swept the Pacers in a first-round series, despite Miller’s 20.7 ppg on .571 shooting from the field.
In 1993-94, Larry Brown took over as Indiana’s coach. Miller’s scoring average slipped to 19.9 ppg, but he finished second in the league in free-throw percentage and third in 3-point field-goal percentage. He also became the team’s all-time leading scorer and only the fourth player in NBA history to hit 800 three-pointers in his career.
The Pacers won 47 games that year and then went all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. In the playoffs, Miller averaged 23.2 ppg, but his performance in Game 5 of the East finals against the New York Knicks may well be remembered as his national coming out party. In that series, it cemented the belief that with Miller on the floor, the Pacers seem to always have a chance to pull out a victory.
In that game, Miller dropped 25 points in the fourth quarter — going 5-for-5 from 3-point range — to lead Indiana to a 93-86 comeback victory at Madison Square Garden. Miller exchanged barbs with filmmaker and renowned Knicks fan Spike Lee at courtside during the barrage of points. The performance shocked the home crowd and consummated the love-hate relationship between the Garden faithful and Miller.
The Knicks won the next two games to take the ’94 series. In Game 7, Knicks center Patrick Ewing posted 24 points and 22 boards in the 94-90 win. Miller scored 25 points, but missed the potential game-winning 3-pointer from the right elbow in the final seconds.
However, Miller’s exploits in Game 5 would stand as one of the greatest individual efforts in NBA Playoff history and that entire playoff run propelled him to superstardom. That summer he participated as a tri-captain on the U.S. National team. The team captured a gold medal at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball as he was the team’s leading scorer (17.1 ppg).
The 1994-95 season was a repeat performance for Miller and the Pacers in how it ended, but he accomplished a lot on the way. He was voted by fans to start in the 1995 All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA Third Team. The Pacers set a club record with 50 wins as they claimed their first division title since joining the NBA from their championship-winning ABA days.
Miller scorched the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs to the tune of 31.7 ppg while draining 7 three-pointers in a 39-point effort in Game 2.
But his defining moment as clutch performer may have come in Game 1 of the conference semifinals in New York. The Pacers were down by six with 16.9 seconds when Miller hit a three. He stole the inbound pass and dribbled behind the 3-point line to sink another one to tie the game. After the Knicks missed two free-throws, Miller sank two for the final margin of victory of 107-105.
In a span of 8.9 seconds, Miller scored eight points. The crowd and the basketball world were stunned.
Longtime rival Ewing would later say, “he’s [Miller] the kind of guy, when you play against him, you want to smack him. But when you play with him, you have his back. You have the utmost respect for him. He came out, he played hard and he did what he needed to do to help his team win… We’ve had our battles, we’ve had our wars. I have utmost respect for him.”
The flurry was reminiscent of his 25-point fourth-quarter outburst in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals, but this time the Pacers defeated the Knicks in the series (albeit after two straight losses). Miller made sure to close out the Knicks this time as he scored 29 points in Game 7 at MSG.
In the next round versus the Shaquille O’Neal-led Orlando Magic, Miller exploded in the first six games. He scored 17 points in the first period of Game 1 (and 26 for the contest), then collected 37 in Game 2. In Game 6, he scored 28 points in the first half on the way to a 36-point evening. He was held in check in Game 7, however, as the Pacers fell, 101-85. Miller finished the playoffs with an outstanding average of 25.5 ppg.
Following the 1994-95 season, Miller was named to the 1996 U.S. Olympic Team that would go onto to win the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
The next two seasons were disappointing for Miller and the Pacers. The team won 52 games for the second consecutive season in 1995-96. However, the Pacers went only as far as Miller could take them. Unfortunately, after an April 13 collision that fractured Miller’s eye socket, Miller could not rebound fast enough to help them survive a first-round playoff series with the Atlanta Hawks.
Without Miller in the lineup, the Hawks and Pacers split the first four games. He made a dramatic Game 5 return in front of the home crowd at Market Square Arena. Although he scored 29 points, the Hawks scored a two-point victory, putting an end to Indiana’s season.
The next season the Pacers slumped to 39-43 and coach Larry Brown’s resigned at season’s end.
That brought another Indiana legend to the fold as native son Larry Bird became the new Pacers coach before the 1997-98 campaign. Bird inherited a veteran team that included Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis and point guard Mark Jackson, who re-joined the team in mid-season after a trade to Denver the year prior. In addition, Chris Mullin, a veteran sharp-shooter, was added to the mix.
After disposing of the Cavaliers and Knicks in the playoffs, Indiana entered a much-anticipated meeting with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the 1998 Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers entered the series with confidence after splitting the four regular season games against the two-time defending champs. After dropping two close games in Chicago, the Pacers made Memorial Day Weekend memorable with two thrilling home wins.
Miller, whose playoff heroics have defined his fine career, scored 13 of his 28 points in the final four and half minutes of the 107-105 Game 3 win, despite a sprained ankle.
Though his reputation as a clutch performer was settled, he was just as infamous for his grabbing and flopping tactics that either earned him the benefit of the referee’s whistle or freed him up to get his shoot off. His unique use of hands and arms came up big in Game 4. He was being closely guarded by Jordan, but rocked Jordan off balance with his hands to break loose and nailed a miraculous 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining that gave the Pacers a 96-94 victory.
The home teams held serve in the next two games, setting up a Game 7 in Chicago. In a tightly competitive game, the Pacers held a 72-69 lead with less than nine minutes to play. The Bulls, who would go on to win their third straight NBA title, clamped down defensively, dominating the boards. Scottie Pippen hit a couple of big shots down the stretch to end the Pacers’ season, 88-83.
The NBA went through a labor lockout and played just a 50-game schedule in 1998-99. The Pacers tied the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference’s best record at 33-17. Individually, Miller ended the season as the NBA’s all-time career leader in 3-pointers made (1,702) and attempted (4,225).
The team reached the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth time in six years, but their path to the NBA Finals was blocked again in a tough six game series by the surprising eighth-seed New York Knicks.
Finally, the next season, the Pacers reached The Finals.
There were a few other firsts as well. The Pacers moved from Market Square Arena to the new Conseco Field House. Also, for the first time in 11 years, Miller was not the Pacers leading scorer — small forward Jalen Rose nosed him out there, averaging 18.2 ppg to Miller’s 18.1 ppg.
The Pacers had the best overall record (56-26) in the Eastern Conference but struggled to get past the upstart Milwaukee Bucks in a tough five-game first-round series. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers, Miller and Rose each scored 40 points — becoming only the fourth pair of teammates in playoff history to accomplish that feat — in the Pacers’ 108-91 victory. After dispatching the 76ers in six games, the rematch against the Knicks in the conference finals was set.
The two rivals split the first four games. Then the Pacers won Game 5 at home and closed out the series at the Garden behind 34 points from Miller to set up their first trip to The Finals.
However, Miller and the Pacers ran into a dominating Lakers team led by O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The Pacers dropped the first two games on the road. They won Game 3, the first NBA Finals home game in franchise history, and nearly won Game 4 before losing 120-118 in overtime.
Though the Pacers drubbed the Lakers 120-87 in Game 5, the series was wrapped up by Los Angeles in Game 6, a 116-111 win in L.A. Miller averaged 24.3 ppg in the series.
The Pacers would go through many transitions during Miller’s last five years with the club, but it was clear he was still the team leader.
Bird left the bench after three highly successful seasons but another Indiana legend took over — former IU and NBA great Isiah Thomas. Smits retired, Mullin asked to be released so he could sign with Golden State and Jackson left via free agency. Finally, Dale Davis was traded to Portland for the young-but-promising Jermaine O’Neal.
Miller’s offense dipped as Rose became more of an offensive option in 2000-01. And with so many new faces and a less experienced team, the Pacers predictably struggled. They finished 41-41, good enough for the East’s No. 8 seed.
The Pacers’ postseason, once again, belonged to Miller. He hit a vintage 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left to deliver a shocking 79-78 victory in Game 1 in Philadelphia. Miller then proceeded to average 36.0 ppg over the next three games, but it wasn’t enough as the Sixers rebounded to win the series in four games.
In 2001-02, Miler led the NBA in free throw accuracy (91.1) for the fourth time in his career, the second straight season and the third time in the last four seasons. Indiana was only slightly better (42-40) and was a No. 8 seed once again.
However, they forced the top-seeded New Jersey Nets to the brink. In the decisive Game 5 of the first-round series, Miller sunk a 40-foot 3-pointer as time expired to force overtime. But the Nets rebounded to win 120-109 in double overtime to take the series.
Ever evolving, the Pacers then rebuilt itself into a contender quickly. Bird returned after a two-year absence from the franchise, but as team president. Shortly thereafter, Thomas was replaced with Rick Carlisle, Bird’s former assistant coach who had been fired in Detroit despite two successful seasons.
The 2003-04 Pacers finished an NBA-best 61-21, setting a franchise mark for wins, but were topped by the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals in six games.
Miller’s final campaign began on the injured list after he broke a bone in his left hand during the preseason. Additionally, the Pacers’ roster was decimated after an ugly brawl with the Pistons that resulted in multiple and lengthy player suspensions. Miller again became a primary option on the now-disjointed team and he returned with a vengeance.
He scored at least 30 points six times and averaged almost 20 ppg game in the absence of O’Neal, the team’s leading scorer.
In early April, Miller played his last game in the Garden — the site where many of his brilliant moments took place. Although it was somewhat anti-climatic, it was not unemotional. The Knicks had faded from playoff contention and many of the familiar New York foes had since left town, but the fans remained and remembered the wounds.
Initially, he was booed. But near the end of the game — on in which he’d only score 13 points — the crowd chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” and honored him with a standing ovation. Miller closed the affair with an embrace of Lee, the embodiment of the Knicks’ anti-Miller sentiment.
The Pacers surged late in the regular season and not only reached the playoffs, but did so as the sixth seed. They then proceeded to upset the Atlantic Division-champion Boston in seven games in the first round. Undermanned, the Pacers fell to the defending champion Pistons 4-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals despite a stirring 27-point performance from Miller in his final game.
Near the game’s conclusion, Miller left the floor for the last time to a hometown ovation that lasted minutes. Brown, the then-Pistons coach, graciously called a timeout, allowing the entire Pistons team to join the crowd as it continued to applaud him and his outstanding career.
Following his stellar career, Miller took on a role as an NBA analyst for TNT before the 2005-06 season, spending his first two seasons on the job splitting duty between calling games and making guest analyst appearances on TNT’s Emmy award-winning Inside the NBA.
Despite all his on-court accomplishments, Miller was not a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, his first year of eligibility. But, it only took another year before Miller joined the all-time legends he belonged with in Springfield, Mass.