Reggie Miller slid the cassette into the VCR and sighed heavily. "You gotta understand, this is a little tough for me," he said, sitting back and folding his fingers behind his head in the Indiana Pacers' executive offices in Market Square Arena. "Not this particular game, of course, but memories of the whole series. I don't like to think about it."
"This particular game" was Game 5 of last season's Eastern Conference final, played on Wednesday, June 1, in Madison Square Garden. On that night, in the fourth period, the Pacer guard changed the weather pattern in New York City by raining jump shot after jump shot upon the heads of the dazed Knicks. When Miller finished one of the most remarkable quarters in NBA history—scoring 25 points on five three-point baskets (a playoff record for one quarter), three field goals from mortal range and four free throws—he had led the Pacers to a 93-86 victory and a 3-2 lead in the blood-and-guts series. New York, however, went on to win Games 6 and 7 and thus captured the Eastern title.
Game 5 confirmed Miller's status as the league's premier practitioner of the ancient art of jump shooting. (During his rampage he also strengthened his reputation as the game's premier lip-flapper by going one-on-one with film director-Knick superfan Spike Lee, who was sitting at courtside.) Except for the free throws and one 15-foot field goal, none of Miller's shots came from closer to the basket than 19 feet. He made jumpers from both sides of the court, off the dribble and from behind screens, in heavy congestion and far from the madding crowd. One of his three-pointers was a what-the-hell heave from about 27 feet, but it was still a classic Miller jumper, arms extended above the head, elbow on the shooting arm (the right) slightly askew, eyes following the ball. (For the record, he did miss two of the 10 field goals he attempted in the period.)
What sets Miller, an eight-year veteran and a member of last summer's Dream Team II, apart? Is it something in the Pacer offense that gets him more long-distance opportunities than other guards? And what will happen to his 19.3-point career scoring average (21.8 over the last five seasons) now that the three-point line has been moved in from as far as 23' 9" to 22 feet, a chip shot for a man who in practice routinely makes 5 of 10 from 30 feet?
To a large degree the art of jump shooting remains a mystery. Miller admires several shooters—he names the Cleveland Cavaliers' Mark Price, the Phoenix Suns' Dan Majerle and Danny Ainge, the Denver Nuggets' Dale Ellis and the Detroit Pistons' Joe Dumars—but doesn't see much stylistic resemblance among them. If he wanted to be a textbook shooter, Miller knows that he would have to keep his right elbow in, tucked close to his body. But his elbow flies out to the side. Like many great shooters, he is somewhat superstitious and subscribes to a pregame routine that does not change: He always puts on his compression shorts first, then his game shorts, then his jersey, then a T-shirt over the jersey. Then he takes a variety vitamin pack as well as an Advil because—endorsement alert!—"I know I'm going to be talking a lot, and I don't want to get a headache."
It is then 90 minutes before game time, and he spends exactly 30 minutes shooting around, with Pacer assistant coach Billy King as ball retriever. Miller starts with the right wing and moves around the perimeter with no particular number or type of shots in the ritual, "just whatever I feel."
Yet he does not always treat his shooting like high church. One recent Pacer practice ended with Miller engaging his teammates in bank-the-free-throw and shoot-the-free-throw-lefthanded games for $200 and $100, respectively. He easily won the first and hit seven of 10 to earn a tie with John Williams in the second.
"The common denominator among shooters is that we all worked hard to develop our shot," says Miller. "I don't think kids do that today. These days you don't go to the playground to shoot your J. You go to try to dunk on someone's head. I did that, too, but I always brought my jump shot with me."
But some answers did evolve as the expansive Pacer captain, now clearly relishing the memory, reviewed the Game 5 tape.
Indiana trailed 70-58 entering the fourth period, and Miller to that point had made only six of 16 shots from the field. "But it was a good six for 16," he said without irony. "It seemed like every one of my misses had gone in and out. I made a decision that I was going to shoot us right back in the game or shoot us right out of it."