The year 1994 was a significant year for basketball, since it was the first of the two years that the NBA’s three-time reigning king – Michael Jordan – instead played for the Chicago White Sox. One potential heir was Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks, who actually had led Jordan’s Bulls 2-0 in the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals before dropping the next four games.
ECF – Indiana Pacers (47-35, 5th Seed) v New York Knicks (57-25, 2nd Seed)
In 1994, the Knicks beat the Jordanless Bulls 4-3 to return to the Eastern Conference Finals. Their opponent, was the surprising Indiana Pacers who, under first-year coach Larry Brown, had only their third winning season since joining the NBA and who had stunned top-seed Atlanta 4-2 in the semifinals.
Prior to the series, uber-Knick fan and famed director Spike Lee called the Pacer’s star guard Reggie Miller and they made a friendly wager on the series. If the Pacers won, Lee would cast Miller’s then-wife actress Marita Stavrou in one of his films, but if the Knicks won Miller would visit Mike Tyson who was then in prison in Indiana.
The Knicks and Pacers split the first four games, as each time won at home. On June 1st, the series returned to Madison Square Garden and the Knicks seized a 67-55 lead going into the fourth quarter. Spike Lee had been taunting Miller throughout and Miller exploded by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter (9-more than the Knicks) – including five three-pointers (which was a record for 3’s in a quarter). Miller famously taunted Lee after each shot in the Pacers 93-86 win.
The Knicks, however, won the last two games to win the series before losing in seven to the Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets in the Finals.
ECSF Indiana Pacers (55-30, 2nd Seed) v New Yorks Knicks (57-27, 3rd Seed)
The two teams met again the next year in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In Game 1 the Knicks had a 105-99 lead over the Pacers at home with just 18.7 seconds remaining. Miller, however, responded by outscoring the Knicks 8-0 over the net 11-seconds.
It was a crucial loss for the Knicks, who ultimately lost at home again in Game 7 after Patrick Ewing’s would-be game winning layup bounced off the rim.
The Pacers, however, lost 4-3 in the Eastern Conference Finals to Shaquille O’Neal and the Orlando Magic.
ECSF New York Knicks (43-39, 7th Seed v Indiana Pacers (58-24, 2nd Seed)
The teams met again in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals and once again Reggie Miller stunned the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. As part of his 38-point performance, Miller sent the game into overtime with a three-pointer with seconds left. With the Pacers leading the Series 2-1, Miller hit a three-pointer with seconds left to send the game into overtime. The Pacers would win 118-107 and clinched the series in Game 5.
Waiting for the Pacers, were the Chicago Bulls seeking their second three-peat. Under Coach Larry Bird, the Pacers pushed the Bulls to seven games that included this dramatic game winner in Game 4.
ECF New York Knicks (27-23, 8th Seed v Indiana Pacers (33-17, 2nd Seed)
In a strike shorted season, the Knicks and Pacers met in the Eastern Conference Finals for a second-time. This time, the Knicks won in six-games helped in part by a disputed foul call that gave Larry Johnson a 4-point play that clinched Game 4.
The win made the Knicks the first eighth-seeded team to reach the NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs 4-1.
ECF New York Knicks (50-32, 3rd Seed) v Indiana Pacers (56-26, 1st Seed)
In this third Eastern Conference Final matchup, Reggie Miller once again had a decisivie standout performance at Madison Square Garden. This time it was in Game 6 as his 34-points helped clinch the series and send the Pacers to their first NBA Finals. The game was Patrick Ewing’s last with the New York Knicks.
As in 1995, the Pacers reward for beating the Knicks was to face Shaquille O’Neal who was now with the Lakers. The Lakers won the first two games in Los Angeles before the series returned to Indiana for three games. The Series turning point was Game 4 in which Miller scored 35-points and Rick Smits added 24-points, but the Lakers won 120-118 thanks to 36-points from Shaq and another 28 from Kobe Bryant. O”Neal averaged 38 points per game during the series.
The Lakers would win the series 4-2 in the first of three-consecutive titles under coach Phil Jackson.
Miller would return to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004, as the Detroit Pistons beat the Pacers 4-2 before sweeping the defending champion Lakers.
The next season would be Miller’s last. The Pacers met the defending-champion Pistons in the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. With the Pacers down 3-2, a 39-year old Miller scored 27 points, as he tried to rally the Pacers and avoid elimination.
When he was taken out with 15.7 seconds to play, the Indianapolis crowd gave him a final standing ovation, where there were many teary eyes. Then-Pistons coach (and former Pacers coach) Larry Brown called an additional timeout during which the Pistons players joined in the ovation, a moment which provided closure to Miller’s career and to a season that had been overshadowed by the brawl between the two teams. This won the 2005 Best Moment ESPY Award.