This is a review of the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”.
As with the previous 30 for 30 films, it focuses on one particular time period, this one between 1993 and 1995 and in particular, the three epic NBA playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers.
During this time, the Knicks and Pacers were knocking heads in the playoffs. The Pacers were an up and rising team. The Knicks were a team on the verge of winning the NBA Championship and with Michael Jordan’s retirement just before the 1993-94 season, it was felt that the time was ripe for the Knicks to win a title.
The Knicks had Patrick Ewing who was in his prime, shooting guard John Starks, forward Charles Smith, plus a whole bunch of defensive players like Anthony Mason who would provide muscle. They were led by coach Pat Riley who wanted to prove that he could win with his true style, a tough defensive play which didn’t allow easy layups.
The Pacers had Reggie Miller, a brash pure shooter who could easily get in the head of opponents through his trash talking and bravado. As his sister, Cheryl stated, he was so annoying and he wouldn’t stop talking. For those three playoff series, the stage was set for some big battles. But while the Pacers had Miller, their defensive style was similar to the Knicks. No one was allowed in the middle to score. If you went down the lane, Dale Davis would be there to knock you to the floor.
The rivalry was set. But it was more than just two teams, it was East vs. Midwest. Indiana where fans basketball was pure vs. New York where basketball was played on the hardcourts and players were brought up tough. Pacers fans adapted Reggie Miller as one of them, a shooter who was challenging New York. So for the Pacers, it was an us vs. them mentality.
In 1993, the Knicks were clearly the better team, the first seed in the Eastern Conference with a 60-22 record. The Pacers got in the 8th spot with a 41-41 record. While the Knicks won the first two games, Miller began to play with John Starks and trashed talked with him. It got to the point in Game 3 where Miller got so much in the head of Starks that the Knicks guard gave Reggie a head butt and got thrown out. It angered Ewing and Charles Oakley that they openly berated and beat up Starks on the court. However, it wasn’t enough for the Pacers to challenge the Knicks and New York won the series, 2 games to 1.
But in 1994, this was where the games became epic battles. Jordan retired taking three NBA Championships for the Chicago Bulls with him. Teams felt the league was now on an even playing field. The Knicks were the 2nd seed in the East. The Pacers were the fifth seed, but they collided in the Conference Finals. After splitting the first four games, Game 5 was played at Madison Square Garden on June 1, 1994. This was where the legend of Reggie Miller truly took stock.
The Pacers had only won twice in New York in their previous 33 tries. And the Knicks got off to a fast start taking a quick double digit lead. With famed movie director and Knick fan Spike Lee sitting in the front row, Miller began using him as motivation. Reggie claimed Lee taunted him with a “Cheryl” chant, but Lee denied it. As the Pacers entered the 4th quarter down 61-50, Miller began to get hot. Whatever the case, Miller focused on Lee and the director became part of the game. Miller hit three pointer after three pointer and as he could go to play on defense, he would stare at Spike. And it was during one stretch when Miller gave Lee the choke sign and grabbed his balls. Sitting next to Spike was his wife who did not look happy to be there.
Miller scored 25 points in the 4th quarter and gave the Pacers the win. However, with an electric sold out crowd in Market Square Arena in Indianapolis for Game 6, the Pacers could not shut the door and with Miller missing a key free throw down the stretch, the Knicks would win and eventually take the series. It left Miller with a very empty feeling.
But the next year, Miller and the Pacers would finally turn the tables on the Knicks. Indiana would obtain former Knick point guard Mark Jackson in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. The two teams were now equals in the eyes of many observers. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Knicks were leading the Pacers, 105-99 with 18.7 seconds left. What Miller did next was next to miraculous. Miller hit a three point jumper to cut the lead to 105-102, then as Anthony Mason tried to in-bound the ball, Miller stole the ball, stepped behind the three point line, and hit another to tie the game so in a span 5.5 seconds, Miller had tied the game. And in a sequence that still eats Knicks fans to this day, eventually went to the foul line to win the game.
The Pacers went on to win the series in 5, and while the Pacers finally climbed the Knicks mountain, Miller says he would have preferred if the win came in the Eastern Conference Finals. It for all intents and purposes closed the window on the Knicks’ chances to win the NBA Championship.
Great interviews with Cheryl Miller, Reggie Miller, Spike Lee, John Starks, Pat Riley, Marv Albert, Greg Anthony, Anthony Mason, Dale Davis, Rick Smits, Ahmad Rashad and many others. As usual, this 30 for 30 documentary uses the interviews to help narrate the film.
Great job by Director Dan Klores to capture a period of time that was instrumental to the NBA in the mid-1990’s. His liberal use of ESPN, NBC and NBA footage takes the viewer back to the mid-1990’s and gives a good perspective on the time period.
The star of the show is of course, Reggie Miller, but the other star is his older sister, Cheryl who talks about how annoying her brother can be. Fantastic stuff. Overall grade, A minus. 30 for 30 continues to impress.