For some reason, quite a few sites and message boards this week have linked the Reggie Miller article I wrote a month ago, and plenty of Pacer fans went on “He’s the best clutch player ever so he must be in the Hall” rants. This has me thinking about Reggie’s most famous playoff moments and if they were representative of his overall playoff/clutch performance. Let’s take a look.
Miller’s first foray into the national consciousness due to his clutch playoff performances was on June 1, 1994, when he blew up for 25 points in the 4th quarter of Game 5 against the favored Knicks in Madison Square Garden. The Pacers won 93-86, taking a 3-2 lead over New York in the Eastern Conference Finals.
From there, the Knicks won two close ones to advance to the Finals. It’s funny the final two games were close because these are supposedly the games Miller’s legacy is all about. Over that duo of contests, Reggie scored 52 points, but he shot only 39% (15 for 38), and had only 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 turnovers. The rest of the team shot 48% in those two games (49 for 102). Great 4th quarter in MSG: all for naught.
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The Pacers returned to the Conference Finals the next year (see also: the two years Jordan was gone). To do so, Reggie had his most famous clutch moment ever: scoring 8 points in 9 seconds against the Knicks in Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals. The Pacers won a tight 7-game series, including a 97-95 Game Seven in which Reggie scored 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting. More important to that win however was that the Knicks had 15 turnovers to the Pacers’ 6; Reggie had none of his teams 6 steals, so don’t look at him as helping with that. Also, the Knicks’ guards lit it up that game, shooting 52% (14 for 27), so it’s really tough to say Reggie’s defense had anything to do with that win. Then they faced Orlando. Reggie went big in Game 6 to keep the Pacers alive, scoring 36 on only 19 shots, including 6-for-10 from deep. Game 7 is where true clutch performers come out, and Reggie bombed terribly, scoring only 12 points on 13 shots with 0 assists. The Magic won 105-81 and went on to get swept in the Finals.
Their next trip to the Conference Finals was in 1998 against the Bulls. Games 6 and 7 were tight and for a trip to the Finals, so it was Reggie time, right? Wrong. The Pacers eeked out Game 6 92-89, but it had just about nothing to do with Miller. He scored only 8 points on horrid 2-for-13 shooting with 0 assists, while three other starters contributed more points and all on less shots (Smits: 25 points on 12 shots, Davis: 19 points on 9 shots, Jackson: 13 points on 10 shots). Miller did considerably better in Game 7, scoring 22 points on 13 shots, but he also had 0 rebounds (the dude was 6-feet-7) and the loss. The Pacers were actually winning in the 4th quarter of this one, so you’d think Miller could have had a moment, but that moment only took place in Game 4 when he hit the turnaround 3 with 0.4 seconds left to win it. Yet again, his most lasting moment from the playoffs was early in the series before he wilted under the brighter lights of a more meaningful game.
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They returned to the Conference Finals in the Jordan-less, lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. The Pacers were a favorite and finished tied with the best record in the East, 33-17. They easily rolled through the #7 Bucks and #6 Sixers before facing the #8 Knicks in the Conference Finals. Despite being favored, the Pacers fell 4-2 to New York, whose 4 wins came by a total of 19 points. You’d think a player of legendary clutch ability like Reggie could have made a difference in a tight series against an inferior opponent, but he didn’t. In fact, Miller scored only 8 points on 3-for-18 shooting in the final game. NY got smashed in the Finals by San Antonio.
The Pacers finally broke through to the Finals in 2000, falling to the Lakers. Reggie had a good playoffs from a scoring perspective, averaging 24 ppg, but he also shot an average 45% for the post-season (plus the requisite super low assist and rebound numbers) and he had that 1-for-16 stinker in Game 1 of the Finals to got the ball rolling for LA. These playoffs were as good as it got for Miller.
Reggie had some amazing moments in Game 5 of 2002’s Round 1 match-up against the Nets. He banked in a 35-foot shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime (banked = luck), then had a big dunk over 3 Nets at the end of the first OT to force the second extra period. At this point the Pacers folded and lost 120-109, losing the series. There’s no doubt these are two memorable playoff moments, but we’re talking about a first-round game, that Reggie’s team lost, in a series Reggie’s team lost.
The Pacers made the Conference Finals again in 2004, but Reggie was a 10 ppg secondary piece behind Jermaine O’Neal, Ron Artest, and Al Harrington at that point. His playoff averages were 10 ppg on 40% shooting.
Wondering where the rest of his playoffs are? Well Indy either didn’t make the playoffs or were bounced in the first round in his first six seasons. They had five more of those years before that 2004 season. That’s a lot of first round exits for someone who is supposedly the epitome of clutch. And as Bill Simmons points out, the Pacers were 9-15 in elimination games during his career, plus they were only 3-5 in deciding Game 5’s and 7’s. His most famous clutch moments were great and unforgettable, but as you look at the bigger picture, you have to see that they were few and far between considering all the chances he had, let alone they often were early in a series and inconsequential. Sorry Indy fans, but the clutch myth doesn’t stand up.