Remembering a Play: When Reggie Miller Became God of Madison Square Garden in Nine Seconds

Sports Remembering a Play
Remembering a Play: When Reggie Miller Became God of Madison Square Garden in Nine Seconds

The New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers both advanced to the second-round of the NBA Playoffs last night, setting up a series between these two tortured teams who helped define the 1990s. This provides us at Splinter sports with a perfect opportunity to remember the time Reggie Miller ripped the entire city of New York’s hearts out and showed it to them in Game 1 of the 1995 second-round playoffs.

Like last week, we’ll cheat a bit and extend this past one play to a connected group of plays that still haunt a major North American city to this day (Good luck in yet another Game 7 in Boston, Toronto! I really hope it works out this time!). Unlike last week, we are not bookending plays at the end of the game and beginning of overtime, as we don’t need anywhere near that much time to change history.

In 1995, Reggie Miller took just nine seconds to carve himself a permanent spot into the headspace of every New Yorker. This went seven games with the Pacers advancing, so what you see here is Reggie Miller flat-out stealing an Eastern Conference Finals appearance from the Knicks right in front of Spike Lee and all of New York City just as the series began. This is so freaking cool.

“John Starks choked.”

God, I miss 1990s basketball. It may have resembled playoff hockey more so than the pace-and-space, bombs away from three era we currently enjoy, but it was nice to watch a bunch of guys compete against each other who didn’t all grow up together as friends playing on the same AAU teams.

Many of you young-folk may only know Reggie Miller as that annoying announcer on TNT talking over a new basketball game every week, but back before Steph Curry rendered this debate moot, Reggie was a prime candidate to be the best three-point shooter in NBA history (he wasn’t, it was Ray Allen, but maybe second place isn’t bad!)

Miller is part of a special cohort of 1990s superstars like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Clyde Drexler, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton who all can’t help but wonder how different their lives may be had Michael Jordan decided to stick with baseball from the very start.

Of all Jordan’s post-bad boy Detroit Pistons challengers, the Knicks and Pacers came the closest to slaying the NBA’s preeminent dragon.

Other than the “Jordan Rules” Pistons who beat him in 1990 in one of the league’s greatest examples of winning the battle but losing the war, Patrick Ewing’s 1991-92 New York Knicks and Reggie Miller’s 1997-98 Indiana Pacers are the only teams to ever force Michael Jordan to show up to work for a series-deciding Game 7.

If the Pacers could have scrounged up six more points in Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, we would never have had Jordan’s famed flu game in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, or his strip and steal of Karl Malone then subsequent push off send off against the Utah Jazz to win his sixth championship and put a perfect bow on perhaps the NBA’s greatest career.

Instead, maybe Reggie Miller’s famed Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 game-winner over Michael Jordan would have marked a passing of the torch moment in NBA history, and eight points in nine seconds would have a lot more historical narrative significance than just an NBA mid-card fight constantly replaying itself in Spike Lee’s nightmares.

The Knicks are a long-suffering franchise, partially due to Reggie Miller repeatedly killing them en route to creating an historic rivalry with Spike Lee and every other Knick fan on the planet. I’m not sure that anyone owned the Garden in the 1990s like Reggie Miller did.

Indiana is beleaguered too, and these two franchises are brothers of a sort. The Knicks haven’t won an NBA Championship since 1973, the same year the Pacers won their last ABA Title. That dynasty, which won three ABA titles in four years, was the last championship team Indiana saw, as they moved to the NBA in 1976 and have only been to one NBA Finals, with an aging Reggie Miller losing to Shaq and Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers in six games in 2000. They didn’t get past the first-round of the NBA playoffs until 1994, when they began an impressive run of heartbreak, losing in seven conference finals over the next thirty years.

You don’t need to have watched Hoosiers to know that Indiana is a Mecca of sorts for basketball, and Madison Square Garden is widely accepted as basketball’s holiest house of worship. These two fanbases have more of a claim to be stewards of the game than any other (yes, Boston and Los Angeles, I hear your protests—no, I do not care), and the sport is always better when these two rivals are good.

As a fan of a previously tortured basketball team, it warms my heart to see the Knicks and Pacers out here thriving.

Tyrese Haliburton is the best Pacer not named Paul George since Reggie Miller, and beating a hobbled Milwaukee Bucks team the same year they made the Finals of the NBA’s in-season sportswashing tournament shows that these new Indiana Pacers have some teeth to them. The revelation that is Jalen Brunson and the Knicks are the favorites in this series, but they will have their hands full with a feisty squad and a dead-eye shooter with a killer instinct.

With any luck, this series will hearken back to their 1990s classics, but I could do with a little less Reggie Miller this time around. I’d bet Spike Lee and other Knicks fans probably agree too. They had seen enough of this guy long before TNT paid him to speak into a microphone.

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