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Miller, As in Thriller
Marty Burns
June 01, 1998
Led by the late-game theatrics of Reggie Miller, Indiana beat the Bulls twice to send the Eastern Conference finals back to Chicago dead even
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June 01, 1998

Miller, As In Thriller

Led by the late-game theatrics of Reggie Miller, Indiana beat the Bulls twice to send the Eastern Conference finals back to Chicago dead even

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Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller has always been a Hollywood guy. Born and raised in Riverside, Calif., not far from Tinseltown, Miller has long been attracted to the silver screen. He has even had bit roles in several movies and TV shows, including a cameo in the current Spike Lee film, He Got Game.

So it was no surprise to find Miller, sitting at his locker before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, talking not about the Chicago Bulls' Doberman defense or Michael Jordan's killer fadeaway but about the latest blockbuster flick. "Godzilla. That's the movie I want to see," Miller said, his face lighting up like a kid's at Christmas. "Man, I can't wait. I grew up on Godzilla!"

Typical Miller: pure Hollywood and a sucker for the big picture. Over the years he has taken a similarly theatrical approach to basketball, basking in the role of villain while cashing in on the fame and fortune that come to the guy willing to wear the black hat. Whether stomping around Madison Square Garden like a certain fire-breathing lizard or going nose-to-nose with Jordan in Chicago, Miller has never been afraid to thrust his rail-thin 6'7" body into the spotlight. Size doesn't matter.

Maybe that's why Miller's performance in consecutive victories over the Bulls last weekend at Market Square Arena was so picture perfect. Miller was as silent as Charlie Chaplin during the first two games of the series, both Chicago victories, but he became Arnold Schwarzenegger in Games 3 and 4, shaking off a sprained right ankle to lift the Pacers to consecutive victories that evened the series at 2-2, with Game 5 scheduled for Wednesday in Chicago. Miller's performance in Monday's Game 4 was a classic of his genre. Still hobbled by the sore ankle suffered when he landed on Jordan's foot midway through Saturday's Game 3, Miller shook off the pain and scored 15 points, including the game-winning jumper with 0.7 of a second left, to lift the Pacers to a 96-94 triumph. That followed a 13-point performance in the final 4:10 of Game 3, which spurred the Pacers to a 107-105 victory. "That's Reggie Miller," Pacers forward Antonio Davis said afterward. "He's got the heart of a lion. He was an inspiration to us."

Like most leading men, Miller had help from his supporting cast. In Games 3 and 4 Indiana's bench, led by Davis, point guard Travis Best, small forward Derrick McKey and guard Jalen Rose, outscored the Bulls reserves 75-38. Pacers coach Larry Bird made several adjustments to get his offense flowing again after the Bulls' defense had hounded Indiana into 46 turnovers in Games 1 and 2. Bird's decision to use the lightning-quick Best and the 6'8" Rose to handle the ball instead of starter Mark Jackson seemed to disrupt Chicago, which had been using forward Scottie Pippen to harass the slower, 6'3" Jackson and take away his post-up game.

But while many Pacers had a hand in the victories, the weekend belonged to Miller. Held to 35 points on 9-of-27 shooting in the first two games, Miller blitzed the Bulls with clutch jumpers at the end of Game 3 to seal the Pacers victory and shift the momentum of the series. After the third of his four straight field goals, a 20-foot dagger from the top of the key that put Indiana ahead 97-89 with 2:36 left and forced Chicago coach Phil Jackson to call time, Miller threw his fists in the air and did a pirouette. "He stepped up the way all great players will in that situation," Jordan said. "We forgot him a couple of times, and he made some big shots."

An even bigger shot would come two days later. With Indiana trailing 94-93 and just 2.9 seconds left, Miller cut from under the basket to beyond the three-point line, vigorously freeing himself from Jordan's clutches en route, took an inbounds pass from McKey and, leaping off his left foot, calmly drained a 25-footer to win the game. This time Miller became a human helicopter, spinning five times before being mobbed by his teammates. "Nobody should be shocked anymore," said Davis in the victorious Pacers' locker room. "At crunch time he's magic." (On Monday night, the only cloud hanging over Indiana was the possibility that Miller would receive a one-game suspension for throwing a punch during a late-game altercation with Chicago guard Ron Harper.)

Fortunately for the Pacers, Miller got the magic back just in time. Shadowed by Harper in Games 1 and 2, Miller had to work hard to get open on offense and also expended loads of energy guarding Jordan at the other end. The result was a lot of moping around the Miller house. "After the first two games, Reggie felt it was his fault," said his wife, Marita, after Game 3. "He didn't want to get out of bed or eat his breakfast. That's the way he is. When he loses, he feels he's letting the whole state of Indiana down."

Win or lose, the basketball-mad residents of the Hoosier State love Miller. His face appears on a giant mural on the outside of Market Square Arena, radio stations air a song about him (R-E-G! G-I-E! Reggie! From the top of the key! Shoot the three! Talking trash and playing some D!), and until recently Miller even had a weekly late-night talk show on local TV.

Privately, though, there's not a lot of glitz in his life. He and Marita, an actress and model who attends many Pacers games, keep a home in L.A. but spend most of their time at their house on Geist Reservoir in suburban Indianapolis, where Reggie plays cards with buddies and zips around on his speedboat. "We like Indianapolis," says Marita. "It's been Reggie's home for 12 years, and he feels comfortable here."

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