The game, for all intent and purpose, was over. The New York Knicks had a 105-99 lead with 18.7 seconds left in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals against their hated rivals, Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.
There is chuckling in the Madison Square Garden stands, as well as on the Knicks' bench. Thoughts turn to Game 2 because Game 1 is over.
So it seems.
In what many sports writers consider the most spectacular nine-second, game-ending scoring run in history -- as well as one of the most horrific end-of-the-game collapses -- Reggie Miller hits a 3-point shot with 16.4 seconds left, immediately steals the ensuing inbounds pass and quickly dashes out to the 3-point line and drains another three to tie the game at 105 with 13.3 seconds left -- all this in a dizzying, mind-spinning span of 3.1 seconds on May 7, 1995.
"We were shell-shocked," says Anthony Mason, the former Knick, years later. "We went numb after his second three. We became totally disoriented. It was like a terrible nightmare that you couldn't wake up from. I still think about it today. I can laugh about it now. I wasn't laughing then, that's for sure."
After Miller's second 3-pointer, the Knicks' John Starks is fouled on the ensuing possession, but he shockingly misses both free throws. The Knicks' nightmare appears to end when the rebound of the second miss is grabbed by Knicks center Patrick Ewing, but he promptly clanks a 10-footer. Then Miller, of all people, grabs the rebound and is fouled, leaving the Knicks and Madison Square Garden in stunned disbelief.
Miller begins taunting celebrated front-row Knicks fan Spike Lee and everyone else in The Garden. Then he makes two free throws with 7.5 seconds left, giving Indiana the lead, 107-105. The completion of the Knicks' comedic and embarrassing collapse ends in laughable agony when guard Greg Anthony falls down while driving to the hoop in the final second, setting off a wild Pacers' celebration.
Miller, in one of the most blatant acts of trash talking in history, proclaims on national TV that the Pacers -- who had been eliminated from the playoffs the previous two seasons by the Knicks -- would now likely sweep the Knicks. He then dashes inside the tunnel to the Indiana locker room, shouting, "Choke artists! Choke artists!" -- a phrase that was splashed across the sports pages of the New York tabloids the following morning.
Only Miller, the King of Clutch, the King of Bravado, the guy who had stunned the Knicks the previous year with a 25-point, fourth-quarter explosion in a Game 5 conference finals victory, could get the Knicks crowd in such a frenzy. "The Knicks, New York, and Madison Square Garden," Miller says today, "bring out the best in me. Always has. It lights a fire inside of me. There's nothing I want more than to beat them on their stage, to steal their show. I got great enjoyment from it."
What's so remarkable about Miller's astonishing eight-point, nine-second sequence is the moment after the steal of the inbounds pass. "What shocked me was that Reggie had the presence of mind to not take a quick two-point shot and instead took one dribble and got back behind the 3-point line to shoot a three," Larry Brown, the ex-Pacers coach, would say years later. "That takes an amazing athlete to do that, a guy who literally has ice in his veins, a guy who loves the pressure and is willing to face the consequences if he doesn't make the shot."
Just why did Miller pass up the easy two and instead dribble out past the 3-point stripe to launch another three? Miller would smile and say, "I wanted to drive a stake through their heart."
He did just that. The ramifications of Miller's shot had a numbing impact on the Knicks' franchise for several years thereafter:
1) The Knicks-Pacers series goes seven games, and Indiana winds up winning as Ewing -- again -- misses the pivotal shot, this time a driving layup that would have tied the game in the waning seconds. 2) Knicks head coach Pat Riley, devastated by the Game 1 and Game 7 defeats to Indiana, resigns. He is replaced by Don Nelson, who doesn't even last a full season, despite having a multi-year contract. The series of events leaves the Knicks in disarray.
Meanwhile, Miller solidifies his reputation as one of history's most feared long-range shooters, a guy who launches it from 30 feet without hesitation. As the 10-year anniversary of Miller's dazzling performance rapidly approaches, Brown says, "I've still never seen anything like it."