It's Still Miller Time He's no longer the Pacers' main weapon, but Reggie Miller remains vital to their shot at the title

May 30, 2004

Reggie Miller once was the Indiana Pacers' quarterback. Now he's
their 38-year-old field goal kicker, their George Blanda. With
the Detroit Pistons threatening to snatch Game 1 of the Eastern
Conference finals last Saturday, Miller calmly broke a tie by
drilling a three-pointer from 26 feet with 31.7 seconds remaining
and added a free throw at the end to lift Indiana to a 78-74
victory. Never mind that he had gone 0 for 6 from the field
before then. "Everybody knew the ball was going to Reggie," said
Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, who was unable to defend against
the inevitable, thanks to Jeff Foster's perfectly executed
screen. Miller followed that dagger with a team-high 21 points in
Game 2 on Monday night, but his potential game-tying layup with
17 seconds left was blocked by Tayshaun Prince as the Pistons
squared the series with a 72-67 victory.

Miller's unlikely transformation from superstar to sensational
role player began after he averaged 24.0 points in driving an
elderly Pacers team to the 2000 NBA Finals. Indiana president
Donnie Walsh chose to dismantle and rebuild the team that summer:
One by one Miller's peers were replaced by young players with
star potential, such as Jermaine O'Neal and Ron Artest, which has
left Miller as the only starter older than 27. Miller voluntarily
handed control of the team to O'Neal, now 25, giving him a crash
course on leadership in the hope that the young power forward
would help bring Miller a championship. Miller also knew that he
could no longer be paid like a superstar, and in an unusually
uncontentious negotiation last summer he agreed to a three-year
contract worth $16.5 million; this season's salary of $5 million
represented a $7 million cut from 2002-03. Coach Rick Carlisle
equates the efforts by Miller with those of David Robinson when
he ceded command of the San Antonio Spurs to Tim Duncan.
"[Reggie's] the most unselfish star I've ever been around," says
Indiana guard Kenny Anderson, a 13-year veteran.

Though Miller averaged 10.0 points this season, tying his career
low, his level of effort remains as high as ever. He's the first
Pacer on the court before practice and maintains a year-round
training regimen. "He runs on the beach in Malibu to keep his
legs strong," says forward Al Harrington, 24. "I went out there
three summers ago to work out with him, and my legs were so
tired, I couldn't work out for the next three days."

As the conference finals progress, Miller will need that stamina
to keep up with Hamilton, a shooting guard 12 years his junior
who appears never to stop running while cutting off screens much
the way Miller has done for so long. Hamilton says he learned the
tricks for getting open from guarding Miller over the years. "I
think he owes me royalties," Reggie joked after Hamilton opened
the series with a game-high 23 points. He used all of Miller's
feints and misdemeanors against him--the quick first step, the
sudden halt to knock the chasing defender off balance, the
grabbing and shoving and faking and juking. Such careful scrutiny
of Miller's game also helped Hamilton mix up his defense by
occasionally playing off Miller to cut off the passing lanes. But
Hamilton's heart sank when Foster got an offensive board and set
up Miller's decisive shot. "I know that the hardest time to guard
me is after an offensive rebound," Hamilton said of being in
Miller's situation, "because I move so much and it's hard to pick
me up."

Detroit counts on Hamilton for clutch play the way Indiana has
relied on Miller; in Game 2, Rip had 12 of the Pistons' last 13
points. But the protege will never be quite so dramatic as the
master because Hamilton lacks Miller's three-point marksmanship;
he was just 18 for 68 on treys this year. "Their skills are the
same except for that one thing," says former Pacers forward Chuck
Person, now an assistant to Walsh. "If Richard Hamilton had
Reggie Miller's shooting range, he would be unguardable." Says
Hamilton, who had another 23-point night on Monday, "Why settle
for the three when you can blow by your guy?"

While Detroit coach Larry Brown is lobbying to include Miller on
the Olympic roster, the 17-year veteran is more focused on
earning an NBA title before his expected retirement in 2005. But
any talk of "winning one for Reggie" misses the point. The Pacers
know they need Miller as much as he needs them. "We've got to
make use of him while he's here," says Foster. "He is a special
weapon that comes along once in a lifetime."

--Ian Thomsen

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN TREY MAGNIFIQUE Miller, a 17-year vet, has not lost his knack forhitting the clutch three-pointer.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)