Deep inside Reggie Miller's hollow frame bubbles a total disregard for the pressure of the moment or the greatness of another player before him, a gunslinger's mentality that tends to spill over for moments just like this.
With the Indiana Pacers down by 1 point, with 2.9 seconds on the clock, Derrick McKey stood patiently on the sideline searching for his team's limping star to break free. He watched as Miller tore away from the grasp of Ron Harper in the paint, circled over the free-throw line and had the audacity to shove Michael Jordan out of his way to create some space between himself and the one-and-only.At that moment, Miller caught McKey's inbound pass, spun and planted on his sprained ankle like Kerri Strug. But without a flinch. Calmly, he delivered a 25-foot, 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second on the clock that sent the fans at Market Square Arena popping out of their seats like toy snakes in a can.
There was a sliver of time left, time for Jordan to one-up Miller's moment with his own. But a weary Jordan, who had shaken free of McKey for an open look at a 3-pointer, watched his shot bang off the backboard, rattle out of the rim and fall helplessly on the floor.
Surprise, Chicago. The Pacers tied this Eastern Conference finals series at two games apiece with a 96-94 victory on Monday afternoon. The four-of-seven-game series will move to Chicago for Game 5, though just who will be allowed to play is uncertain.
The league will review a skirmish that broke out with 4.7 seconds left in the game. After a Pacer turnover, it appeared that Harper pulled Miller into the Bulls' bench. In response, Miller appeared to throw a punch. If so, Miller and Jalen Rose, who may have wandered off the bench, will face suspension.
The Bulls would savor a break from the bane of their existence. Once again, the splinter-sized Miller slithered beneath the skin of the hardened champions on one good leg.
"I shouldn't have been out there," said Miller, who had 15 points on Monday and scored 13 fourth-quarter points after he sprained his ankle in Game 3. "I thought Larry Bird just forgot about me. There's no way I should have been out there for 42 minutes. I thought I was killing us. I was just a stand-alone jump shooter out there."
Until the end. That's when Miller found one last spring in his step as he popped off Jordan for what turned out to be the game-winning shot. And Jordan, who had 28 points, could not return the heroics on the other end.
"Every time I shoot, I think it's in," Jordan said. "I was surprised I got it off. But then a lot of things surprised me today."
The outcome, the referees, Miller's shot. Everything was a shock to the Bulls. As a result, the Pacers were left to offer testimonials to the fact that you can defeat the champions if you mistreat their greatness.
Jordan exited as a star who had been tossed around and beaten down like third-class mail. He walked off the court with sterile strips holding together a gash over his right eye. He was a frayed version of himself after facing the physical McKey and Rose.
Jordan had three turnovers and was just 2 of 6 in the final exhausting quarter that ended with him trying to shadow the gyrating Travis Best at point guard. But usually, Jordan finds a way. Usually, he gets to the free-throw line. But he did not attempt a single free throw in the fourth.
"It's us against the world, including the referees," Jordan said. "But I'm not here to point fingers."
So his coach, Phil Jackson, did. He was irate at how the Pacers had three chances in the last 21.8 seconds to win. First, there was an offensive foul on Dennis Rodman that sent Jackson into an explosion. Then, there were no technicals or ejections during the skirmish between Miller and Harper. And then, on the second of Scottie Pippen's two missed free throws, Jackson felt the rebound went off McKey's hand.
"This was Munich in '72 revisited," Jackson said, referring to the Olympic gold-medal game that ended with Russia beating the United States on a third try. "The inadequacies in the officiating were tough to stomach."
And yet, Pippen could have provided a Rolaid for Jackson. All he had to do was make his two free throws with 2.9 second left. There would have been a 96-93 lead, and the game-deciding shot would have been only to tie.
"Pressure can get to anyone," Miller said. "Pressure can sneak up on you. And at that time, it got a hold of Scottie."
Miller appears immune to pressure. But he could not have surfaced with the slingshot to slay the Bulls without a bench and a center that provided more than a little support for him to lean on. Rik Smits was the go-to man with Miller hobbling around, and he responded with 26 points. But it was the bench down the stretch. It scored 19 fourth-quarter points, which included 8 from the diminutive Best. Mark Jackson cheered from the bench as Best helped the Pacers make up what was a 9-point fourth-quarter lead by the Bulls with an 11-2 run.
The Bulls looked stunned to see how quickly their lead evaporated in a fourth-quarter filled with mistakes. There were six turnovers and two empty free throws by Pippen. And Jordan, he was just an imperfect as the rest.