Rewatching…The Push Off
As noted earlier, NBATV dedicated its programming to Reggie Miller all day yesterday in honor of his 44th birthday. The day featured so many great memories that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’ve always maintained that Reggie’s push off of MJ and game-winning three against the Bulls in the 1998 Playoffs was the most impressive moment of his career.
In 1998, MJ was seemingly invincible. Aside from the time he lost to Orlando after returning out of shape and out of sync from playing baseball, Jordan hadn’t been beaten in nearly a decade. He was infallible. But between Reggie getting the better of him in Game 4 and the Pacers coming the closest of any team in the 90s to beating him when they were ahead of the Bulls in the fourth quarter of Game 7 (the only Game 7 that MJ played in the 90s during his six title seasons aside from in 1992 against the Knicks, by the way), it marked a giant leap forward for a Pacers team that had previously struggled to even get by the Knicks for much of the decade. Without the near-success in 1998, I’m not sure the Pacers develop the savvy necessary to make a Finals run two years later. Players like Jalen Rose got so much experience in 1998 that I think that Reggie’s shot in Game 4 pushed the team to another level — literally.
Someday, I’ll get my hands on Game 7 and do a recap of that one, which somehow represents both one of my proudest and most devastating memories. They were so close to knocking off MJ, which was amazing in and of itself, but they also failed, which was heartbreaking.
But, alas, much like Rick and Llsa will always have Paris, Pacers fan will always have The Push Off. And because it is one of my favorite memories of all time, I decided to do a running recap as I re-watched Game 4 for the first time in a few years yesterday.
(Note: The times are certainly not precise. NBC showed the time/score very rarely back then, so a lot of these are educated guesses. They’re all close enough in comparison to the surrounding action that it shouldn’t matter though. The last few minutes are pretty exact.)
The two best SGs in the East go toe-to-toe in this epic contest.
12:00 – Isiah Thomas is doing the color commentary. Fantastic. At least Bob Costas and Doug Collins are here, too. In other news, this game features my favorite court design that the Pacers ever had. More importantly, this was the playoffs when almost the entire team shaved their heads. And, yes, that includes Rik Smits.
10:30 – Reggie’s hurt his ankle earlier in the series and NBC shows a little montage of how difficult it is for him to even make cuts away from the ball. Meanwhile, Bob Costas talks about Zeke’s epic Finals game with a horribly sprained ankle against the Lakers. His 25 third quarter points that night were one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
8:40 – Mark Jackson makes a great behind-the-back bounce pass to Smits in the post. Few people remember how routinely he would make passes that very few people in the world were capable of.
7:37 – Smits and Luc Longley are battling for position on the post. Not exactly the Battle of the Titans.
7:03 – One of my favorite players and co-St. John’s University grad Chris Mullin drills a straight-away three. With a shaved head, he looks like he recently underwent chemotherapy. Pacers up 14-10.
6:50 – Says Doug Collins: “Reggie Miller is such a factor that he could go stand in the parking lot and someone would have to go with him.”
6:46 – Dennis Rodman checks in. His hair has a bumble bee pattern going tonight with a little Tiger orange blended in on top.
6:03 – Mullin drives by Jordan, misses a layup, gets his own rebound, gets a layup blocked on the other side of the rim, gets the rebound again and then misses a layup from the original side of the hoop. Must have been Charles Smith impression day in Market Square, amirite?
5:20 – Rik blocks that snot out of an MJ layup attempt. We soon find out that Rik also got a bunch of eye and Jordan has to call a timeout on the next possession to tend to his bleeding brow. He ends up heading to the locker room for treatment.
4:04 – Toni Kukoc , aka The Waiter, is trying to punish Reggie in the post. Reggie pokes the ball away but Larry Bird sends in Jalen Rose for Reg anyway. God, I love me some Jalen.
3:20 – Bill Wennington ties the game at 18 with an elbow jumper. He also went to St. John’s. Throw in SJU grad Mark Jackson and this game is 30% Redmen right now. Somewhere, Lou Carnesecca is smiling. And wearing a sweater.
2:20 – Mark Jackson tries to post up Ron Harper. He pump fakes and spins like six times to no avail. Harper blocks his shot pretty easily.
1:48 – Antonio Davis misses a lil turnaround jumper but Dale Davis grabs the board and puts it in. This exact sequence used to happen constantly.
1:10 – MJ’s back from the locker room with a butterfly band-aid on his eyebrow. Says Doug Collins: “He saw the sight of his own blood. That’s not good news for the Pacers.” Doug used to hit on Michael constantly. Now, he flirts with LeBron. He once also showed up at Johnny Moxon’s house in a whip cream bikini.
0:01 – Jordan throws up an airball fadeaway, but Rodman grabs it out the sky and dunks it. Then, while trying to steal the ensuing inbounds pass, Dennis goes flying over the scorekeeper’s table and lands in Bob Costas’ lap. Zeke makes a bunch of awkward jokes. More comically, Costas (even well into the 2nd quarter) continues to think that MJ made the shot even though it was clearly an airball and Rodman clearly dunked it. The lack of replays even back in 1998 is half the reason that no one used to care about poor officiating. It was just as bad back then, trust me, but you only saw it once and didn’t watch it 38 times in slow-mo on YouTube. Calm down, conspiracy theorists.
The Waiter serves up plenty of treys in Game 4.
9:20 – Mike’s doing work. After scoring a few buckets, he gives Reggie a triple between-the-legs move (much like the one he busted Larry Bird with at 2:21 in this YouTube clip of his 63-point playoff game) before walking right by Miller, who has to foul him to prevent an easy two.
8:13 – After Rik nails a jumper, MJ hits a pull-up fadeaway over Derrick McKey. That’s his third straight hoop. Isiah comments on Jordan’s swagger: “When I see that little bounce, and I see that little hop, I know from experience that he’s about to go off.”
7:48 – With MJ guarding Travis Best for some reason, Reggie loses Ron Harper on a baseline screen and drills a corner, catch-and-shoot three.
7:14 – MJ answers with a three of his own. “He’s in one of those zones that great players get into,” says Doug Collins.
7:01 – Reggie answers with an interior bucket off a nice pass by Travis Best.
6:30 – Reggie goes to the well one time too many in trying to keep up this anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better SG contest and badly misses a little running half-hook in the lane.
6:15 – Jordan pushes it out in transition and only has Travis Best to beat. But Travis plays great position defense, staying between Mike and the rim, forcing MJ to go straight into him and commit an offensive foul by pushing off. Good call by the refs, who via the infinite wisdom of revisionist history, supposedly never called offensive fouls on Jordan.
4:35 – Jordan backs down Travis Best in the post and hits an easy mini-fadeaway.
4:05 – Jordan goes at Best again and spins baseline by him but Antonio Davis pokes the ball away. out of bounds Costas calls Travis Best 5’11″. Sure, Bob. Whatever you say. The Bulls inbound, Mike posts up Best yet again, but after a double-team, Pippen winds up hitting a three.
3:15 – Jordan, you guessed it, attacks Best on the block again. After a double, Luc Longley hits a mid-range J. Jesus Chirst, Larry Bird, put someone else on this guy already, would ya?
2:07 – Luc Longley hits a skyhook. People forget that Luc Longley was actually a very capable scorer in the post. Bulls up 12.
0:40 – Mike drives right and pulls up to hit another mini-fadeaway over Derrick McKey. He has 13 in the quarter and 15 for the game. If I didn’t already know the outcome of this one, I’d be very concerned.
0:20 – Mark Jackson drills an open three. Phil Jackson’s Mama, you better guard that man.
0:00 – The half ends. What did you think would happen here?
Contrary to popular belief, Luc Longley is actually the official national animal of Australia.
11:30 – Rodman grabs his 10th rebound. He was really, really, really good.
11:04 – Luc Longley hits yet another jumper after Rik Smits completely forgets how to play defense against an inbounds play. Get it together, Smits. Pacers back town 8.
10:37 – Smits must have been shamed by my criticism cause he dunks viciously — and completely redeems himself.
9:45 – Rodman absolutely beasts Dale Davis for position and tips in an offensive board. I never saw Bill Russell, but Rodman might be the best we’ve ever had.
8:15 – Dale Davis flushes a wide-open dunk to cap a 6-0 run for the Pacers. Market Square Arena loses its goddamn mind.
7:36 – An absolutely gassed Rik Smits hammers Ron Harper with an elbow to the face that, if it happened today’s environment of watered-down physicality, would cause people to call for a lifetime banishment. Rodman tries to entice Rik to punch him in the face — and I think Rik sort of wanted to, but he is just way too tired. It has taken him a solid 12 seconds to get up and down the court the last three possessions.
5:39 – After a TO, Rik is still in the game for some reason, and he somehow grabs and converts and offensive board. What do I know?
5:15 – Reggie outfoxes Ron Harper again (by fading off a screen this time) and sticks another corner three. Pacers down 4.
4:37 – Pippen and MJ run a two-on-one break against Mark Jackson, who does everything he can to hammer Jordan to prevent the dunk. Mark succeeds, but he is the one who falls awkwardly to the floor while Jordan barely feels the contact and nearly converts the and-1. After a few free throws.
3:36 – Jordan murders Miller in single coverage on the block for two more. Bulls back up 10.
3:11 – Smits hits an elbow jumnper. He has 18.
2:14 – Jalen becomes the first person to deter Jordan in the past 24 minutes of game play, simply playing him straight up on perimeter and by not falling for any of his ball-fake trickery. Jordan forces the action though, eventually throwing the ball away with the shot clock winding down. Nice work, Mr. Rose.
1:15 – Jalen can’t stop MJ’s fadeaway the next time down the court, however, as Mike elevates and sticks one from the baseline.
1:02 – Toni Kukoc tries some Euro-cleverness while attempting to guard Rik on the post by “pulling the chair.” But the refs aren’t buying it and instead call Kukoc for the foul, sending Smits to the line, where he scores his 20th and 21st points of the evening.
0:46 – Jalen is over-matched by Mike and fouls him on the perimeter. Jordan makes both, putting the Bulls back up by 10.
0:27 – Rik, who is now officially a man on a mission, astutely slips the screen on a pick and roll and dives to the hoop, where he once again scores again in the paint.
Today, Rik Smits mostly rides motocross. In 1998, he mostly got buckets.
11:42 – Antonio Davis leads off the fourth with a well-earned, drop-step lay-in against Dennis Rodman. Pacers down only 6.
11:04 – Steve Kerr, who looks exactly the same as he currently does, steps into the game and drills a three after a wildly rotating Pacers defense can’t close out on him. Good ball movement by the Bulls.
10:46 – Jalen matches with a trey of his own.
10:04 – Jalen hits another trey. Market Square erupts.
9:48 – Toni Kukoc hits a trey. Market Square sits down.
8:58 – MJ checks in for Scott Burrell. Good move by Phil Jackson. Only a coach as good as Phil is good of such thoughtful chess moves.
8:46 – Then again, maybe Phil should of left in Burrell. Jalen draws an offensive foul on Mike on the perimeter.
8:06 – Reggie checks back into the game and he’s clearly limping. He only has 10 points, but I have a feeling he’s due.
7:58 – MJ sticks a fadeaway. “That shot is almost impossible to block,” says Doug Collins. Almost? Mike has 26. Pacers down 8.
7:04 – After a good possession garners nothing but a missed, open three by Travis Best, Rodman holds off Dale Davis — a guy so tough he cleans his balls with steel wool — with one arm and skies up to snatch the board out of the air with his one off-hand. Unreal.
6:20 – NBC shows a great montage of Jalen and MJ elbowing the hell out of each other. Zeke lauds Jalen for not “conceding” anything. I might be the only person who feels this way, but god do I miss gully 90s Playoff basketball.
6:05 – Smits re-renters the game and, of course, immediately scores. Pacers down 5.
5:36 – After a missed MJ shot, Travis Best dribbles down the court, pulls up and drills a trey. Market Square goes insane. Indy down 2.
4:02 – On back-to-back possessions, Jordan commits his sixth turnover of the night and Luc Longley commits his sixth foul. Says Bob Costas: “Nothing to say to Longley now except for ‘G’day, Mate.” Wocka, wocka, wocka. Pacers are in the bonus and Reggie knocks em both down, obviously. Indy once again down 2.
3:58 – After a Bulls miss, the Pacers bring the ball down the court. “Here comes the Pacers. Here comes the crowd,” says Costas. After a little perimeter passing action, McKey finds himself with the ball behind the three-point line. I’ll let Costas tell you what happens: “Mckey for the three. Mckey FOR THE LEAD.” Pacers up 1. (After a commercial, we see an NBC replay that shows McKey taking a giant elbow to the dome from Smits about 10 seconds before he hit that three. Don’t let anyone fool you. Derrick McKey was what’s up.)
3:26 – After a missed Jordan jumper, McKey makes an awkward dribble move but regains his composure to find a cutting Antonio Davis with a phenomenal no-look pass. Davis gets fouled. Then, he misses both free throws. Boo.
3:01 – As MJ is getting fouled on the perimeter, we see Pippen (inadvertently) drill Reggie with an elbow to the head in the post. Seconds later, Kukoc hits a three.
2:26 – Travis Best answers with a three for the Pacers out of a pick-and-roll. It’s Indy’s 10th three of the night. Pacers up 2.
2:05 – Reggie, again draped all over Scottie’s back in the post, pokes the ball away from Pippen for the steal. Huge defensive play for the three-point assassin.
1:40 – Toni The Waiter “serves” up another three. (I know…I know. Sorry. I’m leaving soon anyway. Calm down.) He has 18 points on 8/10 shooting. (Meanwhile, a replay shows that that last Travis Best three was clearly a two. Let’s all give a round of applause for the rudimentary technology of 1998.)
1:15 – Travis Best ruins a possession by over-dribbling and then missing runner. He will go on to do this 349,827 more times during his Pacers career.
0:56 – MJ hits a pull-up jumper. This is his first point in seven minutes. He has 28 total. Pacers down 3.
0:33 – Best again dribbles waaaay too much. But this time when he (eventually) drives to the hoop, he scores … so there’s that. Pacers down 1.
0:22 – Offensive foul on the Bulls as Rodman is called for a moving screen. Wow. Ballsy call, ref. But Dennis definitely plastered Derrick McKey with that pick.
0:18 – Reggie makes a dribble move, but he gets stymied and kicks it over to Best, who swings it over to McKey, who gets his shot blocked out of bounds. The Pacers retain the ball. McKey inbounds the ball poorly, however, and Ron Harper pokes away a pass intended for Miller. Pippen ends up with the ball and gets fouled. Meanwhile, Harper and Miller get in each others’ faces and a mini lil ruckus breaks out. The refs talk about it for a minute but no one actually did anything, so it’s much ado about nothing. Pippen walks down to the other end to shoot free throws. He misses the first. Isiah talks about the pressure of this situation. “It’s not butterflies in your stomach. It’s a giant whale.” Whatever you say, Zeke. Pippen misses again. McKey rapes Jordan during the rebounding chaos, but it’s not called and the ball caroms out of bounds. At first, the refs call a jump ball, but it gets overruled and the Pacers get possession at half court with 2.9 left. Indy down 1.
0:02.9 – Before the inbounds, Reggie loses Ron Harper off a double screen and then blatantly pushes off Michael Jordan while MJ tries to switch. Reggie catches a perfectly led pass from Derrick McKey, turns in perfect rhythm, elevates, shoots and drills nothing but nylon. “One of the greatest clutch playoff performers of his generation has apparently done it again,” says yells Costas. Market Square Arena is panda-effing-monium. Reggie races down the court with his arms in the air and jumps up and down while spinning about six times. Doug Collins asks what happened to Reggie’s limp when he was dancing like a madman. “Too much adrenaline flowing through your body,” say Isiah. “That’s when you say ‘I love this game.’ That’s what it’s all about right there.”
0:00.7 – Most people forget that this happened, but MJ catches the inbounds pass, elevates for three, double-clutches and shoots. The ball hits glass and then rattles around the rim for what, at the time, felt like ten minutes. It misses.
0:00 – Market Square Arena: “REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE. REGGIE.”