I've loved to hate Reggie Miller for as long as I've known who he was. But part of that loathing has stemmed from the fact that for all his faults -- the dirty play, the gunshot-victim flopping, the alma mater -- he's been a great player.
So it's been somewhat bittersweet for me to watch these last playoff games for Miller, who is retiring, because he is absolute toast.
Miller, whose only remaining value to the Pacers is as a shooter, is shooting terribly. But it's not just a poorly timed slump. He's shot. You can see it. His legs are gone. He can no longer spend 33 minutes chasing Rip Hamilton around on defense and running hard to get open on offense and still have enough spring left for his jumpshot.
He's getting some open looks, and they're clanging off the back rim because he's overcompensating for his dead legs.
Miller had those two consecutive big games in the Boston series, scoring 28 and then 33 points in wins in Games 2 and 3 on a combined 19-for-34 (55.9 percent) shooting, including 5-for-13 (38.5) from three, but he hasn't been the same since.
He had a nice Game 2 against the Pistons, scoring 19 points on 8-for-17, 3-for-6 from three, but even counting that, he's shooting 32 percent against Detroit, and is just 5-for-24 beyond the arc. He went 0-for-11 in the two games at Conseco Fieldhouse, his home gym.
Miller's averaging 11.4 points per game in the Pistons series, which is pretty dim considering he doesn't rebound, pass or defend effectively. Hamilton's numbers are down since Game 2, but that can be attributed to a calf injury incurred in that game. Healthy in Game 1, Hamilton torched Miller for 28 points.
Miller is so worn down he's even all but stopped practicing his greatest art, drawing fouls by bumping lightly into an unsuspecting opponent and then acting like he's been hit by a train, arms flailing as he careers across the court.
Pistons guard Carlos Arroyo put Miller to shame on that score Tuesday night in Game 5, taking a light shoulder brush from Jamaal Tinsley and flying backward like a man thrown through a saloon window.
Why the NBA puts up with that kind of crap is beyond me. A flop should not only not be rewarded with a foul, it should nullify the foul, even if one has been committed and the flop merely enhanced the effect. Or it should be punished as severely as a foul. The league is 20 years overdue in getting rid of this embarrassing nonsense. But I digress.
I think it's too late for the Pacers. Even if they can ride an emotional wave or take advantage of a complacent Pistons team to win Game 6 in Indy Thursday I don't see them winning a Game 7 in Detroit. But I think Indiana coach Rick Carlisle has stayed with Miller for too long, hoping for one last inspired playoff performance, not realizing that's already happened, twice, in the Celtics series.
Miller is a liability now, but I believe he could be an effective weapon if he were used sparingly. Coming off the bench for a few minutes at a time, Miller could be asked to launch some 3-pointers with fresh legs. If they're clanging off the back rim, sit him back down. But if he's got the feel, he can pile up some quick points and give the team a lift -- particularly at home.
Fred Jones is the answer to the trivia question of who would start in Miller's place. He's not much of an offensive player either, but he scored adequately in 14 games as a starter this season, averaging 16.8 points a game, and he's a terrific defender.
I don't think giving a bunch of Miller's minutes to Jones would save the Pacers at this point, but it might give Pacers fans one last chance to cheer as Miller lights it up from the outside. That could still happen anyway, of course, but I'm not betting on it.
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Rick Carlisle, Coach of the Year? [PERMALINK]
"For cryin' out loud," wrote reader and regular correspondent "Ken" after the Pacers won Games 2 and 3 against the Pistons, "why isn't Rick Carlisle Coach of the Year?"
It's a great question. The Pacers coach has done a masterful job of guiding his team through an impossibly difficult season.
Preseason favorites to contend for the championship, the Pacers were closing out a win in Detroit on Nov. 19 that would improve their record to 7-2 when their season was blown apart by a brawl that featured Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal punching fans.
Devastated by suspensions, the Pacers staggered to a 14-24 record over the next three months before going 23-12 from mid-February on. Thanks to suspensions and injuries, Artest, Jackson, O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley combined to play 142 games and miss 186. But the Pacers still made the playoffs, beat the Celtics in the first round and took a 2-1 lead over the defending champs in the second.
But if Carlisle should be given credit for getting his team this far in the face of adversity, he should also be marked down because he was the boss when that adversity was self-inflicted.
Carlisle was just as much in charge of Artest and Jackson when they waded into the stands in November as he was in charge of Jackson and his teammates when they showed so much heart and character in March, April and May.
If there's a great scoreboard somewhere, Carlisle should get lots of credit for the heart and character and hardly any for the violence, because nobody could have expected what happened and no coach would have been likely to stop it. But you don't get Coach of the Year for overcoming a screw-up that happened on your watch. Better luck next year.
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A Florida Yankee in Old Trafford [PERMALINK]
I've been trying for quite a while now to rouse myself to get interested in this whole business of Malcolm Glazer, Florida tycoon and owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, buying the Manchester United soccer franchise. Fans of the legendary team have compared Glazer to Adolf Hitler and referred to the sale as "armageddon."
Glazer has so far acquired 76 percent of the company's stock, which means he can remove it from the London Stock Exchange and take it private. If he can get to 90 percent, he can force remaining shareholders to sell to him at the market price.
Man U supporters object on a number of fronts. They fear that he'll use the team's profits not to keep it strong on the field but to service the huge debt he's accumulated to buy his interest, and that he'll raise ticket prices, sell off naming rights of the stadium, Old Trafford, sell the stadium outright, chase off manager Sir Alex Ferguson and skimp on player contracts.
There is the cautionary tale of once-proud Leeds United, now in the second division after amassing a huge debt and nearly going bankrupt.
It doesn't help that Glazer's American or that he reportedly knows about as much about soccer as I do and can't possibly comprehend the majesty of Manchester United's history or the devotion of its supporters, which is said to dwarf their loyalty to the queen or warm beer.
Fan groups have vowed to boycott merchandise and cancel their season tickets, which would hurt Glazer's stated plan to triple the team's profits, and a demonstration is planned for Saturday's FA Cup Final in Cardiff.
Perhaps Buccaneers fans can make themselves available to Man U fans for grief counseling. They can certainly empathize. All Glazer's ownership has brought to Tampa is a Super Bowl championship, a new stadium, uniform colors not found in a bowl of sherbet and an end to a streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons.
Previous column: Sensitive Sonics fans
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