Mike Miller denied rumors before the start of the NBA Finals that he’d retire after this season.
Well, is there a better game to go out on?
Battered but filled with adrenaline, Miller made it rain on the Thunder by splashing seven 3-pointers in the Heat’s title-clinching Game 5 victory on Thursday night.
Time and time again, the former Gator took cuts at any slim chance Oklahoma City had of becoming the first team to rally from 3-1 in the NBA Finals. Four came in the first half, one in the third, two in the fourth, and all of them hit the heart.
Miller hit 7-of-8 from downtown, just one shy of Ray Allen’s single-game record in the NBA Finals, and followed up Shane Battier and Mario Chalmers as a key perimeter threat for the rim-seeking Heat.
Grimacing and hobbling, the player who’s suffered through wrist, thumb, ankle and back injuries the last two years was the one being called over for an interview during halftime. One could’ve assumed ESPN’s Doris Burke was going to ask Miller if he needed a chiropractor, but she asked him how the team was getting so many open looks from deep.
A hunched Miller smirked and stated the inescapable fact facing the Thunder: “Well, they gotta double LeBron, and they gotta double D-Wade and CB as well, so when you get the opportunities, you gotta let it fly. Enjoy the moment.”
The Thunder weren’t wrong for doing that and daring Miami’s outside shooters to beat them. But it resulted in the Heat tying the NBA Finals record for most 3-pointers in a game with 14. Miller made half of those and was mostly responsible for Miami’s ever-inflating lead, forcing commentator Mike Breen outside his usual “Bang!” with every one that dropped.
Miller, who finished with 23 points in 23 minutes of play with 5 rebounds and 0 turnovers, showed the skills that made the Heat offense look exactly how it was first imagined when the Big Three came together. The oft-criticized trio of stars admitted that they all assumed it would be easier to win a championship. Miller’s talents were among the reasons why they felt that way. Miller’s 48 percent shooting from beyond the arc the year before in 2009 made him an ideal asset to the team. As was his exceptional five career rebounds per game as a shooting guard, which gave him the ability to initiate fast breaks. That’s why the Heat signed Miller to a 5-year, $29M deal just days after forming their nucleus.
But that was before the injury bug hit.
Miller was sidelined for 37 games because of injuries in 2010-2011. He missed 29 with a right thumb injury, three with an ear issue, three with a bruised left knee, one with a sprained ankle and one with a right eye contusion. After last season’s NBA Finals, Miller underwent surgery on his right shoulder. A sports hernia surgery sidelined him for 12 games at the start of this season, and Miller missed 14 games late in the season with a sprained ankle.
It’s expected that the 32-year veteran, who just finished his 12th season in the NBA, will have to get two surgeries this offseason.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra only thought Miller could go three or four minutes in Game 5.
“I’m just glad they didn’t take me out back to the barn and put me down,” Miller told The Daily Republic in South Dakota, his hometown.
The setbacks never gave Miller a chance to consistently make the impact the franchise expected him to make from 3-point range, and he became an afterthought at times in the Heat rotation. Entering Game 5, Miller hadn’t even made a 3. In fact, he had only attempted three of them all series before his fashionably late appearance to the party he helped start in Miami. And it might as well have been a costume party because he came dressed as the grim reaper.
“They just hit 3s after 3s. They got it going and we couldn’t stop them,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. “Things just didn’t go our way.”
The final 3-pointer of Miller’s barrage was the second of back-to-back daggers that came within the first minute of the 4th quarter, and epitomized just how hot he was. Wade had the ball at the top of the key, then passed the ball to Miller. On the way, the ball whizzed by Wade’s good friend James, who went to grab it but dodged it at the last second once he realized who the ball was really going to. Miller snatched it, squared up with perfect form and knocked it down.
That won’t be the last 3-pointer he takes. At least that’s what Miller indicated before. Now it seems his big game and slew of injuries are making him reconsider.
“I’ve got to make sure it’s the best [decision]. If it is, I couldn’t picture a better way to go out on top as a champion like this, but we will see,” Miller said during a post-game broadcast interview. “I’ll visit the doctors and see what parts work and don’t, and go from there.”
An NBA title, a great clinching performance and being “blindsided” in a champagne celebration helps the pain for now. Fellow teammate and Gator Udonis Haslem, one of only two remaining members from the Heat’s first title in 2006, was glad to share another one with Miller. Haslem and Miller came just short of winning an NCAA title together in 2000.
“I’m happy. That’s my brother,” Haslem said in an interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “He’s my brother from another mother. I’m just happy he came out. We’ve had different guys step up at different times. It was Mike Miller’s night, and he was ready.”