Sunday, May 22, 2005
reggie! reggie! reggie!
Pacers' loss secondary to the magic of Reggie
They didn't want to leave. They couldn't leave. Wasn't there another Reggie Miller 3-ball poised to caress the net? Wasn't there just one more spine-tingling, mind-blowing, last-second shot that would save the Pacers and keep their season, and Miller's career, alive for one more night? Wasn't that how the script was supposed to play out?
Now, though, there were 15.7 seconds left, the Pacers reduced to intentional fouls in order to stop the clock, and coach Rick Carlisle was pulling Miller off the floor for the final time.
"Get up, guys," Pistons coach Larry Brown yelled to the players on his bench. "Everybody, get up."
They got up, and everybody in the House That Reggie Built got up, and nobody sat back down for what felt like hours. Miller, walking solemnly off the court, hugged his teammates, hugged Pistons players, hugged Carlisle. And just when it seemed like the ovation had reached a crescendo, just when it seemed like the roof might blow off the place, Brown, who coached Miller for four years here, made a classy gesture.
He called another timeout.
More time for a wonderful home crowd to pay tribute to the greatest player, and one of the finest people, ever to grace this franchise.
"I just wish I had more timeouts," Brown said later.
Soon, the game was over, the Pistons coming back and preserving a hard-fought 88-79 victory to close out this series in six games, and nobody would dare leave.
"We celebrated together," Miller said later. "And tonight, we cried together."
As the game was ending, the chant went up, as it went up all night long: "Reg-gie! Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" Miller, his focus finally off the business of winning basketball games, just looked around for a final time, absorbing the moment, relishing the sights and the sounds.
Then, while Miller was doing his TV interviews on the floor, there was another chant, one that sadly won't be honored: "One more year! One more year!"
You know, it would have been interesting to see how the Pistons and Pacers would have reacted to a seventh game in Auburn Hills, Mich. And yet, in a strange way, it was almost better this way. It was almost better to say goodbye on this night, rather than have it end on somebody else's court, with the home team celebrating and the crowd oblivious to the finish of a Hall of Fame career.
This way, it would end without a dry eye in the place.
"I love you, man," Pistons guard Chauncey Billups told Miller as the pair embraced after the game.
"Thank you for showing us the way it's done," the other Pistons guard, Rip Hamilton, said.
Even the Pistons' postgame celebration was muted by a certain sadness. Yes, they were moving on to the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, but they were seeing one of the league's great players say farewell.
"It shows you," Hamilton said, "just what Reggie's meant to the game."
It was a sad night, and at the same time, it was an absolutely unforgettable night. There aren't many lump-in-your-throat moments in sports anymore, not with the growing disconnect between the fans and athletes. With Reggie, though, it was like saying goodbye to a cherished member of the family.
As he walked off the floor and through the tunnel for the final time, he pointed to the "Indiana" across the front of his uniform and raised his finger to the sky. Words weren't necessary: "Indiana," he was saying with that gesture, "will always be number one in my heart."
Well, Reggie, if a relative newcomer can be so bold as to speak for an entire state, right back at you.
"I can't imagine your last game possibly, 18 years, and a (27 points) performance like that," Brown said. "It's mind-boggling to me. I was completely convinced when he made that 3 with four guys on him, he would find a way to win the game.
"I'm proud to be part of this game. . . . He played like he was 22 years old and everybody got to see it. And everybody ought to cherish it."
It's hard to imagine, just six months ago, the Pacers seemed to represent everything that was wrong with professional sports. But they took ownership of that terrible night, accepted their portion of responsibility for what happened. Then, they took their bitter medicine and found a way to thrive, refusing to play the victim or make excuses.
Miller has played on better teams that have accomplished more, but none with more heart. Little wonder, he called this "his most satisfying season."
Pacers fans will always wonder what might have been, had that drunken fool not thrown the beer cup, or if Ron Artest had not reacted so irresponsibly to the provocation.
No doubt, they will scream today about the 22-2 free-throw disparity in Game 6.
Well, forget it.
Just appreciate what you saw Thursday night. Appreciate the way the Pacers and Pistons, two organizations both stained by the Throwdown in Motown, came back and showed what they're truly about. What began so regrettably and violently ended so nicely, with Pistons players paying proper homage to Miller.
"Thank you," Miller said as he stood up to leave the interview room for a final time.
An Indiana icon scores 27 in his final NBA game
In the end, the very end, Reggie Miller's farewell overshadowed everything.
The Indiana Pacers completed the most turbulent season in the franchise's history with an 88-79 loss to Detroit on Thursday. But the disappointment of playoff elimination and the frustration of a promising season gone horribly awry couldn't compare to the anguish of losing an icon.
Miller, at least, left the announced sellout at Conseco Fieldhouse with something to remember. He had his best game of the series, scoring 27 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Amid defeat, it counted as a personal victory for the 39-year-old veteran of 18 seasons.
"I'm just glad I made shots," said Miller, who had combined for 15 points in the two previous games. "It's been a long, tough series for me."
But a glorious finish. Miller exited the game with 15.7 seconds left to a standing ovation and hugs from teammates and opponents alike. Pistons coach Larry Brown, who had coached Miller for four seasons with the Pacers, then called a timeout to extend the tribute and encouraged his players and coaches to join in.
The Pistons -- who eliminated the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals last season, and were the opponent at the Palace of Auburn Hills on the night of the historic brawl Nov. 19 -- walked to midcourt and cheered. The referees joined in, too, as an emotional Miller stood in front of the Pacers bench.
"I don't think there's ever been an NBA game, a college game, or whatever, where a team is about to move on and someone comes out of the game and the other team is cheering," said Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, a Miller clone who led all scorers with 28 points.
"I think that really shows you what he's done for this game of basketball. He's shown guys like me, and other guys coming up, how to move without the ball, how to create a shot off just one or two dribbles. . . . For a guy his age, the way he played tonight, was unbelievable."
After the game, as Miller granted an interview near midcourt for the national television broadcast, fans chanted "One more year!" He pointed to the fans and touched his heart before leaving the court.
He has played 1,533 games in a Pacers uniform, playoffs included. But he will play no more, fan protestations to the contrary.
"Absolutely not," he said at his postgame news conference. "Absolutely, positively, 100 percent, this is it."
Miller made the rounds in the locker room afterward, thanking each of his teammates. They were still numb when the media intruded moments later, finding it difficult to believe he would never put on the uniform again.
"Right now it's like an emotional vacuum," James Jones said. "Guys are kind of tapped out. But it will hit soon, and when it does it will hit like a rock."
Stephen Jackson, who just completed his first year with the franchise, was the most emotional. He kneeled and bowed his head while standing along the foul lane during the tribute with 15.7 seconds left, fighting back tears.
"I was just trying to keep it together," he said in the locker room, where he was the last player to strip off his uniform. "I was blessed to get a championship in my third year. To see him go out without one, it hurts. It really hurts. When you meet someone who genuinely loves the game and comes and gives 110 percent every night and they fall short, it hurts because there aren't too many guys like Reggie."
Miller regrets the lack of a championship, too. But he leaves with the satisfaction of having given the best he had for 18 seasons.
"I played hurt and I always gave my best," he said. "That's all you can ever ask of a professional athlete."
And to those who saw Thursday's game as evidence he should continue playing past 40?
"I'd tell them to go look at Game 4 and 5," Miller said.
The Pacers begin their post-Miller era today, marking the first time since June 1987, when he was drafted, that he hasn't been part of the franchise.
They can only begin to guess what that's going to be like.
"Reality's going to set in before too long that it's going to be different around here without him," coach Rick Carlisle said. "We're all going to have to be much better at what we do because of that. He's meant that much."
Thanks for the memories
So many people in Indiana have so many memories of Miller.
Randy Fishman, in his 25th year working at the official scorer's table at Pacers games, summed up Miller's meaning to a basketball-mad state.
"He epitomizes what Indiana is," Fishman said. "Only a few players have stayed with one team their entire career. That's loyalty.
"That's what Indiana basketball fans are -- loyal."
With Series in Hand, Pistons Join Pacers to Say Goodbye to Miller
INDIANAPOLIS, May 19 - In the final 15.7 seconds of a night that turned from a playoff basketball game into an emotional tribute, time stopped for Reggie Miller.
As he walked off the court at Conseco Fieldhouse for his honorary substitution, the Indiana fans roared in a standing ovation, their cheers holding him from retirement. When Miller had hugged his teammates and coaches, Detroit Pistons Coach Larry Brown called a timeout so that Miller, the 39-year-old guard from California, could savor this moment - his last of 18 seasons.
The Pistons were seconds away from closing out the Eastern Conference semifinals with an 88-79 victory when Miller put one final exclamation mark to his remarkable career: in retiring, he united the two teams in a gesture that tried to heal an N.B.A. season that was marred by a brawl in November on the Pistons' home court that involved players from both teams and fans.
His protégé from the Pistons, Richard Hamilton, and the rest of the Detroit team hugged Miller, six months to the date of the fight.
Miller stepped to the bench just then, waving one final time to history. He had missed two 3-point attempts in the final 30.9 seconds and, despite his vintage 27-point performance, Indiana's season and his career were both over.
The victory allowed the defending champion Pistons to clinch this Eastern Conference semifinal series, four games to two, and move on to play Miami in the conference final beginning Monday. Miller moves on to retirement with no regrets.
"I've had better seasons and a little bit more joy, but personally, this was the most rewarding for me," Miller said, long after he had gone to each of his teammates and thanked them, one-on-one, in the locker room. "After what happened, no one really expected us to be here.
"It was an unbelievable ride," Miller said of the wave of fan support. "We celebrated together, and tonight we cried together."
Miller will retire without having won a championship, a point he made somberly, but with no lasting regrets. He found his shooting rhythm, going 11 for 16 Thursday night after shooting 38 percent in the series and struggling to score in double figures the last two games. As he hit four 3-pointers, curled off screens and knocked down jumpers, Miller almost carried his team to a Game 7.
"I was completely convinced he was going to find a way to extend his career," Brown said. "He played great; he played like he was 22 years old."
He was the best player on the floor for Indiana, and asked to explain to those who wondered why he would not play another year, he said, "I will tell them to look at Games 4 and 5."
Would he even consider a return?
"No, absolutely, positively 100 percent, this is it," he said.
Even his opponents were swept away with the power of his final performance and their own mixed emotions. "It was killing me inside that he was making shots," said Hamilton, who led all scorers with 28 points.
In the on-court embrace, Hamilton said he told Miller: "I told him, thanks, thanks for everything he had done. Everybody in the N.B.A. should be thanking him because he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played.
"One thing he told me, yo, carry the torch. It's kind of crazy at his age, he was still was able to put up a performance like he did tonight; that just tells you how good he is."
Chanucey Billups, the Pistons' point guard, was overwhelmed with his own emotions. "Reggie was unbelievable; he didn't want it to end," he said. "If it wasn't for me playing the game, I didn't want his career to end either."
But in the end, the Pistons had more weapons than Miller's team. Although Jermaine O'Neal also awoke in Game 6, scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, it was too late.
The Pistons overcame a 6-point deficit early in the fourth quarter with a 9-0 run and never let up.
Rasheed Wallace hit a 3-pointer with 1:42 to play to give the Pistons a 6-point lead, but Miller answered immediately with his own 3-pointer 11 seconds later, as the Pacers pulled within 3 points, 82-79. That was all Miller would do.
Hamilton hit a jumper off a screen with 53.1 seconds left to give the Pistons an 84-79 lead that would hold in the end.
But it was watching Miller play his last game that gave the players a chance to put the lasting impression on their rivalry.
"How about that? We played three games since the fight, six games in the playoffs, and guys were hugging each other," Brown said. "That was the thing that, to me, this whole series. I just thought it showed that through all the junk that happened, kids could just play basketball."
Miller, more than anyone, did that.
When the Pacers' best three players were suspended for their roles in the brawl, Miller took on a greater leadership role.
"That's what this season has been all about, finding a way to win," Miller said. "I didn't get the ultimate prize, but I tried."
Boom! It's over
Pacers bow out of playoffs in Game 6 loss to Pistons
It's only fitting that the Indiana Pacers' season ended exactly six months to the day that many thought it was taken away at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
As the final horn sounded in their 88-79 Game 6 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse, the Pacers walked off the court with their heads down in disappointment.
The end of their season also meant the end of Reggie Miller's 18-year career.
The Pacers, who overcame the brawl, suspensions and injuries to reach this point, pulled within 82-79 on Miller's final field goal -- a 3-pointer just above the key with 1:31 left. That's as close as they got.
"It's tough to lose; you hate to lose a playoff series," said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who was wearing the same suit and tie he had on the night of the brawl at the Palace. "They've been a part of one of the unlikeliest success stories in pro sports with everything that has happened to us. Needless to say, we're really proud of the effort our players gave the entire year."
In the end, though, the emotion of trying to extend Miller's career could only go so far. The Pacers ran into a better team, a team trying to win a second consecutive world championship. The Pistons, who won the series 4-2, advance to play the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
"First and foremost, I want to congratulate the Pistons. They are the champions and they proved to be a better team in this series," said Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal, who broke out of his shooting slump and scored 22 points. "More than anything, I want to congratulate the city for supporting our team when times were tough and we only had six players dressing for games. The organization, the players and the coaches have endured tough times night in and night out."
Playing the last game of his career, Miller finished with a team-high 27 points. He checked out of the game to a standing ovation from the fans and both teams with 15.7 seconds left and the Pacers trailing 87-79.
"Truthfully, this has been the most trying season and the most challenging," said Miller, who is retiring after 18 seasons. "For me, the most rewarding part was simply making the playoffs, beating Boston and going six games against the world champions. This season was about finding ways to win. That was the most rewarding."
The Pacers went from dressing six players the night after the brawl, losing Ron Artest for the rest of the season, losing starting point guard Jamaal Tinsley and O'Neal for most of the second half of the season with injuries to beating Boston in seven games and playing a drama-free series against the Pistons.
"I'm really just proud that our guys never flinched," Carlisle said. "Everybody just decided there wasn't going to be any giving in to lower expectations because of an unprecedented situation that we went through."
It often wasn't stylish, but the Pacers went from a walk-it-up-and-call-out-a-play-every-time offense with O'Neal in the lineup to relying on perimeter players Miller, Stephen Jackson and Anthony Johnson.
"A lot of people thought we would fall to the wayside when we were hit with the rash of injuries," Johnson said. "A lot of guys in the locker room have a lot of pride and took it upon themselves to step up and play big. You can go throughout the locker room and at one point in time this season, every guy has carried this team. It was a great team effort. That was one of the positives that came out."
The Pacers played the first half Thursday like they were determined to force a Game 7. They shot nearly 57 percent from the field and led by as many as 10 points.
The Pistons never buckled.
Detroit took its first lead with about two minutes left in the third quarter. The Pacers responded with a 7-0 run before the Pistons took the lead for good with a 9-0 run. The Pacers only got as close as three the rest of the way.
Guard Richard Hamilton, who is often compared to Miller, led the Pistons' second-half charge by scoring 21 of his game-high 28 points after intermission.
O'Neal, who struggled throughout the series, had his best game of the series, adding 11 rebounds.
"It hurts more than anything right now," said Jackson, who finished with just six points. "We played our hearts out and it was really emotional. It's the hardest thing to see Reggie walk away from the game without a ring."
Reggie Factoids! By the numbers
25,279 Regular-season career points, which ranks 12th in NBA history. He scored 10 points in his first game against the 76ers in 1987.
2,560 Regular-season 3-pointers made, which ranks first in NBA history. He attempted 6,486 (39.5 percent), hitting just one in his pro debut.
1,389 Regular-season games played, which ranks sixth in NBA history. Pacers won 803 regular-season games in Miller's 18 seasons.
1 NBA Finals appearance (1999-2000 against L.A. Lakers). Miller played in 144 playoff games, averaging 20.6 points per game.