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Miller, As in Thriller Led by the late-game theatrics of Reggie Miller, Indiana beat the Bulls twice to send the Eastern Conference finals back to Chicago dead even

June 01, 1998
June 01, 1998

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June 1, 1998

Catching Up With...

Miller, As in Thriller Led by the late-game theatrics of Reggie Miller, Indiana beat the Bulls twice to send the Eastern Conference finals back to Chicago dead even

Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller has always been a Hollywood
guy. Born and raised in Riverside, Calif., not far from
Tinseltown, Miller has long been attracted to the silver screen.
He has even had bit roles in several movies and TV shows,
including a cameo in the current Spike Lee film, He Got Game.

This is an article from the June 1, 1998 issue Original Layout

So it was no surprise to find Miller, sitting at his locker
before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, talking not
about the Chicago Bulls' Doberman defense or Michael Jordan's
killer fadeaway but about the latest blockbuster flick.
"Godzilla. That's the movie I want to see," Miller said, his
face lighting up like a kid's at Christmas. "Man, I can't wait.
I grew up on Godzilla!"

Typical Miller: pure Hollywood and a sucker for the big picture.
Over the years he has taken a similarly theatrical approach to
basketball, basking in the role of villain while cashing in on
the fame and fortune that come to the guy willing to wear the
black hat. Whether stomping around Madison Square Garden like a
certain fire-breathing lizard or going nose-to-nose with Jordan
in Chicago, Miller has never been afraid to thrust his rail-thin
6'7" body into the spotlight. Size doesn't matter.

Maybe that's why Miller's performance in consecutive victories
over the Bulls last weekend at Market Square Arena was so
picture perfect. Miller was as silent as Charlie Chaplin during
the first two games of the series, both Chicago victories, but
he became Arnold Schwarzenegger in Games 3 and 4, shaking off a
sprained right ankle to lift the Pacers to consecutive victories
that evened the series at 2-2, with Game 5 scheduled for
Wednesday in Chicago. Miller's performance in Monday's Game 4
was a classic of his genre. Still hobbled by the sore ankle
suffered when he landed on Jordan's foot midway through
Saturday's Game 3, Miller shook off the pain and scored 15
points, including the game-winning jumper with 0.7 of a second
left, to lift the Pacers to a 96-94 triumph. That followed a
13-point performance in the final 4:10 of Game 3, which spurred
the Pacers to a 107-105 victory. "That's Reggie Miller," Pacers
forward Antonio Davis said afterward. "He's got the heart of a
lion. He was an inspiration to us."

Like most leading men, Miller had help from his supporting cast.
In Games 3 and 4 Indiana's bench, led by Davis, point guard
Travis Best, small forward Derrick McKey and guard Jalen Rose,
outscored the Bulls reserves 75-38. Pacers coach Larry Bird made
several adjustments to get his offense flowing again after the
Bulls' defense had hounded Indiana into 46 turnovers in Games 1
and 2. Bird's decision to use the lightning-quick Best and the
6' 8" Rose to handle the ball instead of starter Mark Jackson
seemed to disrupt Chicago, which had been using forward Scottie
Pippen to harass the slower, 6'3" Jackson and take away his
post-up game.

But while many Pacers had a hand in the victories, the weekend
belonged to Miller. Held to 35 points on 9-of-27 shooting in the
first two games, Miller blitzed the Bulls with clutch jumpers at
the end of Game 3 to seal the Pacers victory and shift the
momentum of the series. After the third of his four straight
field goals, a 20-foot dagger from the top of the key that put
Indiana ahead 97-89 with 2:36 left and forced Chicago coach Phil
Jackson to call time, Miller threw his fists in the air and did
a pirouette. "He stepped up the way all great players will in
that situation," Jordan said. "We forgot him a couple of times,
and he made some big shots."

An even bigger shot would come two days later. With Indiana
trailing 94-93 and just 2.9 seconds left, Miller cut from under
the basket to beyond the three-point line, vigorously freeing
himself from Jordan's clutches en route, took an inbounds pass
from McKey and, leaping off his left foot, calmly drained a
25-footer to win the game. This time Miller became a human
helicopter, spinning five times before being mobbed by his
teammates. "Nobody should be shocked anymore," said Davis in the
victorious Pacers' locker room. "At crunch time he's magic." (On
Monday night, the only cloud hanging over Indiana was the
possibility that Miller would receive a one-game suspension for
throwing a punch during a late-game altercation with Chicago
guard Ron Harper.)

Fortunately for the Pacers, Miller got the magic back just in
time. Shadowed by Harper in Games 1 and 2, Miller had to work
hard to get open on offense and also expended loads of energy
guarding Jordan at the other end. The result was a lot of moping
around the Miller house. "After the first two games, Reggie felt
it was his fault," said his wife, Marita, after Game 3. "He
didn't want to get out of bed or eat his breakfast. That's the
way he is. When he loses, he feels he's letting the whole state
of Indiana down."

Win or lose, the basketball-mad residents of the Hoosier State
love Miller. His face appears on a giant mural on the outside of
Market Square Arena, radio stations air a song about him (R-E-G!
G-I-E! Reggie! From the top of the key! Shoot the three! Talking
trash and playing some D!), and until recently Miller even had a
weekly late-night talk show on local TV.

Privately, though, there's not a lot of glitz in his life. He
and Marita, an actress and model who attends many Pacers games,
keep a home in L.A. but spend most of their time at their house
on Geist Reservoir in suburban Indianapolis, where Reggie plays
cards with buddies and zips around on his speedboat. "We like
Indianapolis," says Marita. "It's been Reggie's home for 12
years, and he feels comfortable here."

He also feels plenty of motivation. Although recognized as one
of the game's premier clutch players, Miller has long labored in
the giant shadow of Jordan. The Pacers and Bulls' first playoff
meeting was Miller's chance to show he could share the stage
with His Airness.

That's not to say, however, that Miller wanted to talk up a
Michael-Reggie matchup. Last week he took pains to avoid
comparing himself to Jordan, at one point calling Jordan "the
Number 1 two guard in the game" while modestly ranking himself
in "the top 10 somewhere." Likewise he shrugged off references
to his well-chronicled ability to get under Jordan's skin (the
NBA suspended Jordan for one game in 1993 for throwing a punch
at Miller on the court) and to Jordan's politically incorrect
statement that Miller's hands-on defense made playing him feel
like "chicken fighting with a woman." Miller kept saying, "This
isn't about me and Michael. This is about the Pacers and the
Bulls."

Miller's diplomacy reflected not only common sense but also his
new maturity. At 32, in his 11th NBA season, Miller has tried to
change his image from that of a pugnacious player who loves to
talk trash to that of a confident veteran who lets his play
speak for itself. "I'm still going to be feisty on the court,
but maybe I don't need to do all that other stuff," Miller says.
Adds Marita, "He's learned how to control some of his emotions."

The turning point for Reggie may have come in the early hours of
May 15, 1997, when he watched as his and Marita's $2.9 million,
14,000-square-foot dream house outside Indianapolis burned to
the ground. Although the Millers had not yet moved in, they lost
many prized possessions in the blaze, including Marita's wedding
band (stored, ironically, for safekeeping), valued at $45,000;
several expensive rugs; a blanket Reggie's mother, Carrie, had
knit; and many items related to Reggie's career, such as
autographed balls from the Pacers and the '96 U.S. Olympic team.

The fire, believed to have been the work of arsonists and still
being investigated by police, left Miller so disturbed that he
considered retiring. His best friends on the Pacers, Jackson and
forward Dale Davis, did their best to talk him out of it, but
only Bird, who had been hired seven days before the blaze, could
persuade Miller to keep playing. Says Miller, "He said, 'You've
got to move on. This is your team and your city--don't let one
bad apple ruin it.'"

Miller wound up enjoying one of his best all-around seasons,
averaging 19.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists while
shooting 47.7% from the floor, including a career-best 42.9%
from three-point range. More important, Miller became more of a
team leader. Although his scoring average was its lowest since
1988-89, he distributed the ball more, worked hard on defense
and did other things to help the Pacers succeed. "I don't have
to score 30 points for us to win," Miller says. "If I score 10
points and we win, I'm just as happy."

That's not to say that Miller--who once dubbed himself
Hollywood--doesn't still relish being the Man at crunch time. On
May 10, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against
the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Miller's Godzilla-like
performance (he had 38 points, including a game-tying
three-pointer in front of Lee with 5.1 seconds left) was vintage
big-game Reggie. The Pacers went on to win, 118-107 in overtime,
to take a 3-1 lead in a series they would close out in the next
game. "I live for moments like that," Miller says.

Now he would like to add the Bulls to his list of victims,
though he understands the enormity of the challenge. For Miller,
dethroning Chicago to earn his first trip to the NBA Finals
would be more than a great finish to a great season. It would be
the ultimate Hollywood ending.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS FREE FOR THREE Left open outside late in Game 3, Miller hit four straight shots, including this trey. Then his three-pointer with 0.7 of a second to go won Game 4. [Reggie Miller in game]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER HANGIN' IN Miller got more than a little help from his friends, as Rik Smits's dunk over Bill Wennington and Dennis Rodman shows. [Bill Wennington, Rik Smits and Dennis Rodman in game]COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller in game]
When the Pacers lose, Marita says, Reggie "feels he's letting
the whole state of Indiana down."
"That's Reggie Miller," says Davis. "He's got the heart of a
lion. He was an inspiration."