The Inbounds: Reggie Miller was the thorn you loved or hated watching stick

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There’s a freaking movie about how Reggie Miller made life hell for the Knicks. That’s how legendary that rivalry was. But it wasn’t just the moments, the trash talk, the shots or the points. To be a truly worthy hero, or a villain, you have to be good enough for the damage inflicted to seem like something more than just “one of those things.” This wasn’t just a player have a great series or series of series against one team. It was a great player who happened to just stab one team in particular in the midsection. Over. And over. That’s what makes it legend.

Reggie Miller enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a year later than he needed to, honestly, and to much less fanfare than many of his contemporaries. Miller’s reputation doesn’t really precede him. Whether it was his style and approach, playing in Indiana, or something else, Miller never really hit household-name level. The fact that he spent a huge portion of his prime playing against the GOAT has something to do with that, yet another wonderful player who was swallowed up in Jordan’s shadow. But for those that watched him, they understand what he was able to do during the course of his eighteen seasons in the NBA.

Something that stands out when you look at Miller’s Basketball-Reference page? All eighteen of those seasons with one team. How many Hall of Famers from this current era are going to be able to make that claim? Miller could have gone chasing a ring in New York or with Chicago or whoever, but he stuck with Indiana and they enjoyed a prolonged series of success featuring multiple trips deep into the playoffs.

And that kind of leads us back to the original topic. You can torture a team from multiple teams, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as seeing that same uniform, over and over, as representing what it means to wear that jersey. Not just for the Knicks, but all the fans who throughout his stellar career cursed the sight of him in that white jersey jogging backwards with his mouth open. It was a special kind of irritant.

Miller stands in the Hall not only for how he lifted up the Pacers and put them into an era of relevance in modern times, but for how he burned the other teams around him down to the ground, then vandalized the historical markers where they once stood. The man jawed with Jordan, for cripes’ sake. He made famous the choke signal. He put Spike Lee’s fandom on a new level. He is a huge reason why if a team is up seven with time winding down, you shouldn’t leave the channel for any reason, ever. It wasn’t just what he did for his own team. It’s what he did to the other guys.

In a way, Miller enters the Hall of Fame at a time where that identity is fading. Team rivalries are starting to explode, replicating the star-studded Lakers-Celtics matchups, even if none are as great. Boston-Miami, Chicago-Miami, New York-Brooklyn, LA-LA, Spurs-Mavericks, Lakers-Celtics, Lakers-Thunder, the list goes on and on. But having that one guy who just murders you on his own is getting harder and harder to find. Miller was never the best player in the game, but he was often close. LeBron doesn’t really hit that level, because he’s always one step above with his talent.

We’re seeing the death of the villain/one-team hero. It’s not worse or better than these epic battles with individual moments you remember (“That Battier three,” “the James Harden finger gunz shot,” etc.). But it does make you long for the days of Miller and how he would just murder a team until the fans were a blubbering mess that would forever spit when his name was mentioned again. We need more of that drama, more of that kind of good vs. evil matchups.

Of course, you look at all that and you realize that Miller never won an NBA title. Maybe the two were related. Stayed with his team, tortured his rivals, played the good guy to his fans, the bad guy to everyone else, and never walked out with the ring.

But then again, there’s something pretty cool about being remembered as “that guy.” Here’s to “that guy,” Reggie Miller.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.