INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Amid chants of “Reg-gie! Reg-gie!” and a plea for “one more year,” Reggie Miller played his final regular-season game after 18 years as one of the NBA’s great clutch shooters.
“There was so much surrounding this game, trying to stay focused,” Miller said after an 85-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls. “You look around the arena, you have your family in, it’s tough. I was emotional the whole time.”
Miller is retiring with 25,279 points, 12th in NBA career scoring, and the victory guaranteed the Pacers the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and a first-round series against Boston.
O’Neal had 21 points and Johnson added 20, scoring the go-ahead basket and a clinching 3-pointer in the final minute. Had the Pacers lost, they would have opened at Detroit, the site of their infamous brawl with fans early in the season.
After leading the league with 61 victories last year, the Pacers were hurt by injuries and by suspensions following the brawl and finished 44-38.
“We’ve got a chance. Obviously, we won’t be at full strength, but who cares?” Miller said of Indiana’s playoff hopes. “We have to find ways to win ball games.”
Ron Artest, who was suspended the rest of the season after the brawl, watched the game Wednesday night from the Indiana bench.
Afterward, during a postgame ceremony on the darkened court, Miller spoke to the Indiana fans.
“We have laughed, we have cried, we have celebrated all together, I was a young and, I will admit, very immature young man coming in at 21,” he said. “But the people of Indianapolis have really matured me into a more settled 39-year-old as I go.
“I want to thank you guys for opening your hearts to me each and every night that we played.”
The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for Indiana.
“It’s great to go in on a win. I can’t honestly say we’re playing well right now, but we’re going to piece it together,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “There were a lot of reasons to win tonight. The biggest reason was for Reggie, for what he’s done for this franchise.”
Miller had 12 points and shot just 3-of-13, each miss drawing groans from the 18,345 fans who turned out for a farewell that included taped messages from former President Clinton and a host of celebrities and former and current NBA stars.
“This is a great night, without question,” Carlisle said. “This had to be an unbelievable thing for him to get through. A lot of this stuff, I don’t think he knew was going on, a message from Clinton. To absorb all that and try to play a basketball game, it’s just … Wow, I couldn’t imagine doing it.”
Chicago led by 14 points early in the game, but the Bulls missed their first eight shots in both the third and fourth quarters, and the Pacers slowly fought their way back.
Miller scored a basket and then two free throws at the start of the final period, tying the game at 64. Johnson then stole the ball, and O’Neal hit two baskets and a free throw to put Indiana up 69-64. The Pacers stretched the lead to 76-67 before the Bulls made their final comeback.
“There are certain players in the league, it’s pretty special any time you get to go against them,” said Chicago coach Scott Skiles, a former Pacers player and teammate of Miller’s. “I’ve played pickup basketball with Reggie many times. I’m sure it’s special for everyone in the building to have been here.
“I tend to look at it like he had such a great career and he’s made a life decision. We should be happy for him. He probably has about 20,000 more points than me.”
Two baskets by Jannero Pargo, who finished with a season-high 17 points, helped put Chicago up 79-78 with under 2 minutes to go. Johnson then gave Indiana the lead again and hit his big 3-pointer for an 83-79 lead. Stephen Jackson, who finished with 17 points, gave Indiana its final points with two free throws with 4 seconds to go before the final basket by Chicago’s Jared Reiner.
Chicago placed F-C Tyson Chandler on the injured list and activated G Frank Williams before the game. Williams did not play. … Miller was 0-for-2 on 3-pointers, ending his NBA record streak at 15 straight years with at least 100 3-pointers. He had 96. … Indiana used its 30th different starting lineup of the season. … The Pacers and Bulls split their season series 2-2. … Chicago is 0-14 in Conseco Fieldhouse. The Bulls’ last victory in Indianapolis was in 1998 at Market Square Arena. … The Pacers have held 11 of their past 15 opponents to 90 points or less. … Miller, who hit all six of his free throws, was 250-of-268 (93.3 percent) for the season, becoming just the third NBA player to lead the league in FT percentage five times. … Skiles came to Indiana in a trade with Milwaukee in 1987 and played two years with Miller; F-C Antonio Davis was drafted by the Pacers in 1990 and played six years with Miller.