Even though the Bulls were favored to defeat the Pacers, Miller couldn’t wait to face Chicago because of Jordan, who was in the final year of his contract and rumored to retire following the season.
Reggie Miller: “All right, this is it, you’re gonna retire Michael Jordan”
In Episode 8 of ESPN’s The Last Dance docuseries, Miller spoke about playing Jordan and the Bulls in the ’98 conference finals. The sharpshooter felt the Pacers were better and wanted nothing more than to beat MJ and send him into retirement.
“We all looked at the Bulls as the standard model of success,” Miller said. “They were considered the best at that time, but we felt, I feel to this day, we were the better team. The whole thing is, there was whispers that this was going to be Mike’s last year. So I think a perfect storm was brewing, and in my mind, I was thinking, ‘All right, this is it, you’re gonna retire Michael Jordan.'”
In The Last Dance, former Bulls big man Bill Wennington said the matchup against Indiana was the hardest playoff series Chicago had during the dynasty years. Jordan, who received his 1997-98 MVP Award during Game 2 of the Pacers series, took his duel against Miller and Co. personally since they were physical.
Michael Jordan on Reggie Miller and Pacers: “They were tough”
Jordan said in The Last Dance the Pacers gave the Bulls the most challenging time in the East. He also revealed he wanted to beat them badly because he kept getting scratches on his body every time he faced them.
“If I had to pick a team that gave us the toughest time in the East, Indiana was probably the toughest, outside of Detroit,” Jordan said. “They were tough. Every time I’d go in that f****** game and come out, I got a new scratch. It became personal with me.”
Jordan and the Bulls won Games 1 and 2 at home. Miller and the Pacers responded by winning Games 3 and 4 on their home floor. The five-time All-Star hit a game-winning 3-pointer in Game 4 with Jordan trailing him.
Chicago won Game 5 at the United Center and had a chance to wrap up the series in Game 6 in Indiana. However, the Pacers won, setting up a do-or-die Game 7 in the Windy City.
Bulls and Pacers played an epic Game 7
Game 7 between the Bulls and Pacers was an epic contest. There were moments in the fourth quarter where it looked like Indiana would win and end Chicago’s dynasty. However, the Bulls’ championship experience paid off when it mattered most.
Led by Jordan, the Bulls outscored the Pacers 19-18 in the fourth quarter. His Airness scored nine of his 28 points in the final period and limited Miller to zero points. Chicago wound up winning by a final score of 88-83 to advance to the 1998 Finals.
Jordan finished the Pacers series with averages of 31.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists. Meanwhile, Miller put up 17.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. After defeating Indiana, Jordan won his sixth championship over the Utah Jazz, finishing his Bulls career with six titles, six Finals MVPs, and five regular-season MVPs.
Miller led the Pacers to the 2000 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Unfortunately, Indiana lost the series in six games. Uncle Reg, who is in the Hall of Fame and was voted as one of the best 75 players in NBA history, never won a championship during his legendary career, and Jordan played a significant role in that.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference