In a game certain to become a classic, the Nets survived another heroic effort by Miller and outlasted the Indiana Pacers in double overtime, 120-109, in Game Five of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
"This was one for the ages," said losing coach Isiah Thomas. "I think people will talk about this one for a long time. There were a lot of great plays and a lot of great moments. It had excitement, ups and downs and a lot of drama. It was what NBA basketball is all about. This was a fantastic game."
"It's a shame that one of the teams has to go home," Nets coach Byron Scott said. Jason Kidd had a playoff career-high 31 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and countless big plays for the top-seeded Nets, who reached the conference semifinals for just the second time in franchise history. They will face the fifth-seeded Charlotte Hornets in the best-of-seven series beginning Sunday.
But the story was Miller, who added another remarkable chapter to his postseason lore and nearly lifted the eighth-seeded Pacers to a stunning upset. He made one of the great buzzer-beaters in playoff history to force overtime, then caught the Nets entirely off guard with a driving dunk that forced the second extra session.
"He's one of the greatest players I've ever seen in the playoffs," Scott said. "I have a lot of respect for Reggie Miller. He's got one of the biggest hearts you'll ever see on the court and off the court. I call Jason the silent assassin but Reggie is just an assassin. He lets you know he's coming. He just keeps throwing daggers at you. He's one of the greatest players in playoff history."
"Reggie doesn't quit and you saw that tonight," Kidd said.
Led by Kidd, the Nets showed some resiliency of their own. He set up Kerry Kittles for a driving three-point play and made a jumper around a missed 3-pointer by Miller, giving New Jersey a 112-107 lead with 3:07 to go.
Ron Mercer made a jumper and Indiana had a chance to get closer. The Pacers tried to run Miller off a screen by Austin Croshere and the Nets switched, leaving Kidd on the bigger player. But Kidd stole the entry pass to Croshere, then hit an 18-footer that beat the shot clock and gave the Nets a 114-109 advantage with 1:10 left.
Indiana again tried to free Miller with a series of screens, but New Jersey defended well and Jeff Foster was called for an illegal pick with 56 seconds to play.
On Indiana's next possession, Kidd partially blocked a shot by Miller, who scored 31 points but was shut out in the second overtime. He made 10-of-23 shots, including 6-of-14 from 3-point range.
"I know a lot of people around here talk about me as if I'm some boogie man that comes up with all these plays," Miller said. "But I couldn't come up with the big one tonight." If Miller was being hard on himself, he was even harder on his teammates, many of whom are younger than him.
"Our younger guys didn't respond when they had to," Miller said. "That's very discouraging to me because I feel we have the best young guys in the league. We needed plays down the stretch and we couldn't come up with the big play."
"Reggie is tough. I wish I could have given him a better game," said All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds but fouled out as he was outplayed by Kenyon Martin. "He is a guy that kept us in there time after time tonight and we just needed one more person to get over the hump tonight and it just didn't happen."
With the Pacers trailing, 94-91, Miller baited Keith Van Horn into a silly foul while he was shooting a long 3-pointer with 18 seconds to go. A 91 percent foul shooter, Miller made the first but missed the second after the Nets called timeout. He made the third, leaving Indiana trailing by one.
"I think that was a smart call by coach Scott," Miller said. "I think the basketball gods were setting up something bigger for me. It always comes back."
He could not have been more right. Kidd made two free throws for a 96-93 lead and the Nets appeared to have it when Richard Jefferson was fouled after rebounding a missed layup by Kevin Ollie with 5.1 seconds left. But the rookie missed both free throws, Ollie dribbled up the left sideline and found Miller, who spun right and threw in a line-drive banker from 35 feet as the horn sounded.
"He's one of the greatest clutch players I've ever seen, if not the greatest," Thomas said. "You got to talk about him right up there with Jordan in terms of being a guy who can make shots from anywhere. He hits fantastic shots and finds a way to push those buttons and get his legs moving."
Miller had a jumper and 3-pointer to help the Pacers open a 103-100 lead with 1:30 left in overtime. Kidd answered with a pair of baskets before feeding Martin for a dunk and a 106-105 lead with with 26 seconds to play.
"We could have easily given up once Reggie made that shot and start thinking about what if," Kidd said. "The guys stayed together and played their hearts out."
"Jason just didn't want to lose," Scott said. "We've seen it all season long in games that we had to win. He continued to press the issue and did a fantastic job of hitting big shots when we needed it. What else can you say. Tonight, he pretty much showed why he's the MVP of the league this season."
But Miller wasn't finished. Martin stole the ball from O'Neal, but again left the door open by making 1-of-2 from the line with 8.2 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Miller faked a 3-pointer and drove through a defense stunned stationary for a flying, tying dunk with 3.1 seconds left.
Kidd missed a jumper at the buzzer but took charge in the second overtime, when Miller missed four 3-pointers, the last three in desperation.
"I think that's why he's the MVP," Miller said. "He really controlled the tempo. He didn't force anything. When they needed a basket, they went to him. He's their catalyst and the reason that they're the number-one seed in the East."
"We've been very resilient all year long," Scott said. "We're one of those teams that continues to fight back. When you talk about a team that never says die, that was our attitude tonight. We knew that it was win the game or come in tomorrow and pack up your locker."
Martin scored 29 points on 12-of-23 shooting and added eight rebounds. Van Horn scored 25 of his playoff career-high 27 points in the first three quarters. The Nets shot 44 percent (45-of-102) and committed just 11 turnovers.
Ron Mercer scored 20 points, Brad Miller added 14 and 17 rebounds and Ron Artest added 14 points for the Pacers, who shot 48 percent (42-of-87) but committed 21 turnovers. Indiana was 1-of-8 with three turnovers in the second overtime.
The game also was tied 51-51 at halftime and 79-79 after three quarters.
The last time the Nets advanced to the conference semifinals was in 1984, when they upset defending champion Philadelphia in the first round. The Pacers were bounced in the opening round for the second straight year.