'Too-nice' style didn't fit Miller

May 31, 1994|By Jesse Barkin | Jesse Barkin,Los Angeles Daily News

INDIANAPOLIS -- Reggie Miller of the Indiana Pacers admitted what everyone else knew all along. He talks, therefore he is.

After spending the first three games of the NBA Eastern Conference finals disguised as some silent and polite impostor, Miller opened his mouth and enlarged his game yesterday at Market Square Arena. Sticking jumpers in the faces of the New York Knicks, then telling them how he did it, the All-Star guard scored 11 of his 31 points in the final 5:18 to lead the Pacers to an 83-77 victory and tie their best-of-seven series at two wins apiece.

"I'm not a nice guy, and I was playing too nice," said Miller, explaining his return to normal.

Why he would have thought it smart to play otherwise is anybody's guess. But before the series began, Miller convinced himself he would just keep quiet and basketball would take care of itself.

Maybe he was trying to avoid another incident like last year when Knicks guard John Starks was so annoyed with Miller's antics he felt compelled to give him a head butt. Perhaps he wanted the bright lights of the Big Apple to be shared among his teammates.

Whatever the case, yesterday he conceded his strategy had backfired.

"I was trying to be a model citizen for my teammates, and they were the ones telling me to be the jerk," said Miller, who scored 13 of his team's final 16 points of the game.

The advice was far reaching, including from his sister, Cheryl Miller, who couldn't believe what she wasn't hearing from her younger brother.

"I had a lot of people call me, from the outside looking in, and they just knew from last year's series to this year's, I wasn't being the same," Miller said. "Win or lose, you've still got to play your type of game. And I just wasn't doing that.

"I just wasn't being Reggie Miller early in the series."

There was little doubt who was wearing No. 31 for the Pacers yesterday. Rising above what was another tough-nosed defensive struggle that has characterized this series, Miller's offense down the stretch was a welcome sight to all of Indiana.

After going into the locker room at halftime with a 42-39 lead, the Pacers appeared to take command as they opened the half on a 14-4 run for a 13-point lead.

Indiana's defense -- particularly inside -- was remarkably strong, but New York's ineptness contributed heavily. The Knicks had four turnovers and had missed eight of its first 10 shots before Patrick Ewing stopped the slide with a jumper.

The Knicks closed to within seven by the start of the fourth quarter, and tied the game at 67 on a three-pointer by Greg Anthony with 7:31 remaining. It was at that point when Indiana coach Larry Brown called a timeout and looked over at Miller.

"He said, 'This is your time. This is what you relish. Bring it home. If anybody's going to be the one to do it, it's going to have to be you.' " Miller said. "So I knew what I had to do."

What he did first was sink a free throw to get back the lead after the Knicks were called for illegal defense. The next thing he did was miss a jump shot. A three-pointer by Hubert Davis gave the Knicks a 70-68 lead.

The rest of the game belonged to Miller. He curled around a screen, took a pass and hit an 18-footer. Next time down he passed the ball out of a double-team to an open Rik Smits for a jumper. Next time down, Miller sank a 20-footer with a hand in his face.

"He's great to watch when he's going like that," said former Laker Byron Scott, now Miller's backup at shooting guard. "He's one of those guys who you just sit back and enjoy. Because once he gets it going like that, you can't stop him. He's a lot like Michael Jordan. You start standing around and watching him."

Derek Harper didn't enjoy it, though. The Knicks 6-foot-4 point guard picked up three fouls in a one-minute stretch in the fourth period when the Pacers took control, two of them flying out to try to block 20-foot jumpers from the 6-7 Miller.

As it turned out, Miller wouldn't get another field goal the rest of the game. But those three fouls by Harper translated into six made free throws by Miller, and the Pacers had an 80-73 lead with 2:20 left.

"Reggie's a smart player and he played well tonight," Harper said, perhaps suggesting some acting was involved in getting some of the calls. "He plays well under pressure."

The Knicks kept coming, and had a chance to tie with a three-pointer in the final seconds until Ewing threw a high and hard pass off of the hands of Davis and out of bounds.

Haywoode Workman iced the game when he sank the second of two free throws with 5.2 seconds left.

For the Knicks, that final play summed up an afternoon of frustration. If it wasn't as bad as Saturday's 88-68 loss here in Game 3, it was close. The Knicks shot 38 percent from the field and committed a whopping 24 turnovers. They had seven turnovers in the last six minutes, and seven of their last 12 possessions resulted in turnovers.

"We had our opportunities to win, but we just didn't take advantage of it and they did," said Ewing, who bounced back from his one-point performance in Game 3 to lead the Knicks with 25 points.

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