Miller's still on a mission
INDIANAPOLIS One by one, the key figures for the Pacers Stephen Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal and Rick Carlisle emerged from the practice court Wednesday and assumed a rather appropriate position: Backs literally against a brick wall at Conseco Fieldhouse, except facing the media. Tonight they face elimination at the hands of the defending champion Pistons.
The symbolism did not end there. The retiring Reggie Miller declined to speak to the general press, participating only in a more low-key (and more mandatory) production meeting with ABC. Fitting. We've been asking, "Where's Reggie?" for several days now, so at least he was being consistent. For Miller, like most of his teammates, has been a complete no-show in the past two games of this series, suddenly controlled by Detroit. He's been, figuratively speaking, quiet for the better part of four of the five games and for most of the postseason, continuing a trend that started with the 2002-03 playoffs. Or perhaps he just felt, obligation aside, that there really was nothing to be said, as opposed to so much more he needs to do. Pick one.
This probably sounds like I'm picking on Reggie, like I'm calling him out. Not at all. The Pacers need a pick me up, or very soon someone will be picking them up at the airports of their offseason homes. I am merely calling on Miller, in what could be his last game, to provide one.
To give us one more. To not go out like this.
Frankly, he's given the Pacers very little lately (by his lofty standards, of course) other than the free throws and the controversial jumper that clinched a Game 3 victory and gave Indiana a 2-1 series advantage. A man whom Hubie Brown considers one of the five greatest shooters in the game's history which means it's a fact has been successful one out of about every five attempts from the arc (five of 24) against the Pistons. He's made just eight shots but he's also taken just 24 during the past three games.
In Miller's defense, Detroit's pretty good. Richard Hamilton is no Michael Jordan, but, supposedly sore calf and all, he's done an admirable job of keeping up with his idol. Indiana's recent inability to limit Detroit's possessions and second-chance points cuts into the Pacers' opportunities to run, thus reducing Miller's chances to get off those patented, quick 3s, and when the Pacers have gotten into their transition game, the Pistons have been good at finding Miller on the perimeter. Miller hasn't had many shot attempts lately (about 10 per, 15 in the past two) for reasons ranging from poor offensive execution by Indiana to Miller, whose game is moving without the ball, possibly having difficulty reading Detroit's defense.
He's shooting 38 percent for the series (40 for the playoffs), which happens to be on par with the Pacers' collective accuracy, so Miller isn't alone in his struggles. Defense always is on display when these teams get together. The Pistons are only shooting 42 percent. "There's not a whole lot of lights-out shooting going on in this series," O'Neal said.
"I'm not really worried about Reggie, per se," Carlisle said.
I am. As much as the Pacers have overachieved, and while I'm reluctant going into Game 6 to even write them off in this series, the fact is Miller will retire without that elusive championship. I've never owned a Miller jersey, but I respect what he's accomplished and my fear is that he will leave the game on a low note, looking, at least shooting-wise, every bit of 39. He still runs around screens like he's 19, so he's had plenty of good looks. As patient and as smart as he is, he wouldn't take them if they weren't. He's just not knocking them down.
Larry Brown, his former coach and now adversary, shook his head "no" the other night when asked if he'd ever seen Miller miss so many wide-open shots. "But every time he shoots," Brown said, "it's like, 'Oh no.' They're right on line. I think we are trying to extend out on him and put a hand up, but it never seemed to bother him in the past."
That's my point right there. Reggie Miller doesn't need to be wide open, feet set, uncontested to make shots. He's Reggie Miller. Actually, right now, he's not. I know he's not 29 anymore and this isn't 1995 and these aren't the Knicks, and perhaps he's tired from carrying the Pacers through the 22 games O'Neal missed, but I guess I just expect him to make shots even when no one in the series is making them, even against the best defensive team in the league.
We all know exactly what Hubie Brown means when he says, "When he elevates, you feel in your heart it's in."
In my gut, I know Miller's got at least one more left in him. This season and these playoffs have been, for Indiana, about "winning one for Reggie." But with O'Neal bothered by a bad shoulder and Jamaal Tinsley still not all the way back from the foot injury, clearly they're unequipped do it for him. Not without his help.
Will Reggie ride to the rescue? What we do know is that he has stage presence. It was just last round, after being blown out by the Celtics in Game 1, that Miller scored 28 and 33 points, respectively, in the next two games, both wins, making him the third-oldest player in league history to score 30 in a playoff game. He stepped up with 19 to help Indiana upset Detroit at home in Game 2. He created his legend in the '90s performing in times like these, crunch times. I expect an encore.
"I know Reggie," Jackson said, "and I know how he's excited to come play at home, and I know how he puts on his cape and comes out of the booth when he gets here."
Right then, I imagine, Miller was busy meeting with his tailor.
Michael Smith is a senior writer for ESPN.com.