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Egonomics 101 Reggie Miller's bravado helped keep Indiana alive

Reggie Miller doesn't fight the crowd, not the way he used to,
at least. He doesn't call Spike out anymore, doesn't yap at
Jack, hardly ever grabs his throat, as if a clutch three weren't
mockery enough for the fans. At 34 he's not the same
spindle-legged affront to humility that came into the league 13
years ago, that's for sure.

Growing older is part of it. Acquiring a little sensitivity is
some of it. Missing enough clutch threes, as you're bound to do
if you play for a while, is most of it. Bravado, once fueled by
youth and ignorance, sputters with age and experience. Now the
crowd grabs its throat as you set up in the corner. And the shot,
wouldn't you know it, doesn't always fall.

So, no, he's not as much fun to watch anymore, he's no longer a
riot-starter kit when he goes on the road. Still, he remains the
heart and soul of the Pacers, and any team that fails to take
Miller's ego into account is doomed to taste defeat, as the
Lakers did in Game 3 of the Finals on Sunday night.

There he was, raining in 33 points, inciting the Hoosier crowd
with raise-the-roof dramatics, generally reminding everyone of
the importance of being Reggie. "It always comes down to me," he
said, almost wearily, after Indiana had climbed back into the
Finals with a slide-stopping 100-91 victory. "It's my team. I've
got to do everything."

In the series' first two games, both wipeouts in L.A., Miller had
been humbled, shooting 1 for 16 in the opener, and then, while
doing a little better in the second game, producing zero points
in the fourth quarter, crunch time, Miller time. The Lakers,
mindful of Miller's resilience, chose not to bring this point to
the fore when they spoke to the press, but the conclusion was
inescapable: Miller had become a nonfactor, a victim of his own
karma, choking on his own history. This was payback, finally, for
a decade of high-handed obnoxiousness.

Miller argued otherwise, complaining that he'd simply had
trouble getting "ticked off" at Los Angeles. He had little back
story with the Lakers, no well of resentment from which to scoop
desire. But then the league's best three-point shooter became a
laughingstock, and suddenly he was plenty ticked off. "I'm more
upset with myself now," he said after the opener. "Which is kind
of scary."

It helped that the Lakers were without Kobe Bryant for Game 3,
but who knows what even that wunderkind could have done in the
face of this oldster's determination. It might be noted that all
eight of Miller's fourth-quarter points were free throws, but to
see Miller punch in a jumper in the third quarter, then steal
the ball on the next possession, pull up and sink a three to
give the Pacers an 18-point lead, well, you were reminded that
self-confidence is a powerful force.

Then, in that same quarter, when Indiana guard Mark Jackson was
forced out-of-bounds and surrounded by Lakers in front of the
L.A. bench, there was Miller jumping in for the rescue, creating
the kind of fuss that used to be so central to his game plan.
Coach Larry Bird immediately reminded him that energy is a
precious commodity at his age. "You can't get caught up in that,"
said Bird. But Miller shrugged off the advice. "I gotta let it
pour out," he said.

It was good to see him back, to know that the accumulation of
failure that goes with any career does not rule out the
possibility of success. It gets tougher all the time, no
question. But not impossible. That next shot from the corner? Oh,
it'll fall. Watch.

--Richard Hoffer