Miller rising up in crunch time
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — During the TNT broadcast of Miami’s first-round playoff series clinching win over Charlotte Monday night, the announcers talked about the void off the Heat bench left by Mitchell native Mike Miller.
ESPN analyst Greg Anthony pondered who would come off the bench to supply a three-point punch for the two-time defending NBA champion now that Miller plays for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Miller, in his 14th year in the league, showed his value for the Grizzlies, coming off the bench to score a team-high 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting with five 3-pointers in Memphis’ Game 5 overtime 100-99 win over Oklahoma City Tuesday.
Through the first four playoff games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 6-foot-8 small forward had not been as significant for Memphis that he had shown to be when the Heat won back-to-back NBA titles in 2012 and 2013. Miller averaged just five points per game heading into Game 5, when he broke out at an opportune time.
Former Mitchell Kernel boys basketball coach Gary Munsen, who went to Memphis for Game 3 and 4, said Miller has been guarded closely by Oklahoma City the moment he steps on the floor.
“They are on him so tight,” Munsen, who coached Miller at Mitchell High School in the mid 1990s, said of the Thunder defense on Miller.“Last night he just got open. Some of those shots (Tuesday night) were way out there. He has proven he is a big-time shooter in the playoffs.”
During the regular season, Miller averaged 7.1 points per game — his best scoring season since 2009-10 with the Washington Wizards. He played in all 82 games for the first time since his rookie season in 2000-01.
In the Grizzlies’ fourth straight overtime game against the Thunder Tuesday, Miller scored the first six points for Memphis in the extra session on two 3-pointers. The Grizzlies held on to win 100-99 after a Thunder tip- in with time expiring was ruled too late by officials.
Oklahoma City, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and a favorite to contend for its first NBA title since moving from Seattle, now faces a win-or-go-home scenario in Game 6 against the No. 7 seed Grizzlies at 7 p.m. today in Memphis. The last No. 7 seed to win a first-round playoff series was San Antonio in 2010.
The 21-point performance Tuesday against the Thunder was the third-best for Miller in his 83 career playoff games.
In Game 5 of the 2012 NBA finals against Oklahoma City, Miller played 23 minutes and made 7 of 8 3-pointers in a title-clinching win for Miami. In his first career playoff game with the Orlando Magic in 2001 against the Milwaukee Bucks, he scored 22 points. He has averaged 5.4 points per game in the postseason, while making 39 percent of his three-point attempts.
The history of the NBA playoffs is filled with players who have made a name for themselves coming in at crunch time to lead their team to memorable victories with big shots. Robert Horry created a hall-of-fame-worthy reputation with incredible shots for the Spurs, Rockets and Lakers in the playoffs, while Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson entered games and lit up the scoreboard at the most crucial times for the Detroit Piston teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Miller has gone from a starter in his early seasons to a productive sixth man to now a role player off the bench. At 34 years old, Miller will likely never return to full-time starting duties, but there is always a place for a clutch performer on a championship team.
“He is having a lot of fun right now,” Munsen said of Miller and his role with Memphis.