The Knicks vs. Pacers rivalry, explained by Reggie Miller trash talk, a John Starks headbutt, and more

Nobody can ever get the last word if the trash talk never stops.

NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller is still running his mouth, and New Yorkers are still giving it right back to him as if it’s 1994. The rivalry between the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers resumed in the 2024 NBA Playoffs, but the echoes of the franchises’ epic confrontations in the 1990s continue to reverberate in Madison Square Garden and Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

As to be expected, some of those echoes may run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission’s rules about profanity.

“I think they’re saying ‘fuck you’,” Knicks forward Josh Hart told Miller, referring to the chants filling the arena, during the TNT broadcast of New York’s Game 2 win over Indiana in the 2024 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Of course, Miller, whose career highlight reel is nightmare fuel for Knicks fans, wouldn’t have it any other way.

All of this active animosity can be traced back to NBA playoff clashes between New York and Indiana during the 1990s. The hard-nosed ‘90s-era Knicks led by Patrick Ewing and John Starks came up against the sharpshooting Miller’s Pacers in the postseason in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1998, 1999, and 2000. The rivalry featured iconic fourth-quarter comebacks sparked by Miller, Game 7 heroics (and disappointments) from Ewing, a notorious head butt from Starks, that four-point play by Larry Johnson, quotable digs from Larry Bird during his stint as Pacers head coach, and even made director Spike Lee arguably as famous for his Knicks fandom as his films.

Whether you were rooting for the Knicks or were out there replicating Miller’s choke pantomime whenever you came across a New Yorker, you likely had something to say about this matchup if you were a hoops fan back then. The same is true of those involved: With many thanks to the archives of The New York Times,, The Indianapolis Star, The Associated Press, the New York Daily News, and several more local and national outlets, here is what everyone involved had to say about the rivalry as it was happening in the 1990s and early 2000s.


The 1993 Eastern Conference first-round clash may have featured the fewest games of any of the ensuing series, with the No. 1 seeded Knicks taking the best-of-five series over the No. 8 seeded Pacers in four games, but it set the stage for everything that would follow.

Knicks shooting guard John Starks on preparing to play against Reggie Miller: “He can be rattled, if you get up on him. If you stay off of him and let him play his game, he’s going to eat you alive.”

Knicks power forward Charles Oakley on getting ejected from Game 1: “I’m like America’s most wanted.”

With the Knicks up 2-0, it seemed like they were cruising toward a rematch with the Chicago Bulls, who had eliminated them from the previous two postseasons. But a few sharp words — and perhaps sharper elbows — sparked a moment of madness from John Starks and ignited a rivalry that would burn for years.

Reggie Miller talking about his trash talk: “I don’t think I make people mad. I think the media blows it out of proportion. I’m a nice guy. I don’t think I did anything to John to make him mad. I think something happened earlier in the day. Maybe room service was late. Maybe he was taking a shower and the maids came in.

“It’s all in fun. We’re not talking about each other’s mommas. This is classy trash talk.”

Starks on the headbutt: “The talking didn’t get to me. I was ignoring it. But when somebody starts taking cheap shots on me …

“Before that basket, he ran by me and hit me in the chest with an elbow. I was so hot, I took the ball to the basket and ran down and got in his face. He got too close. Everybody knows Reggie Miller. His sole purpose was to get me out of the game. Maybe it’s because he’s a weak defender.”

Knicks head coach Pat Riley on the headbutt: “I don’t condone that in the least, and that’s a play that simply shouldn’t have been made. John has to take the responsibility of being a front-line player. We’ve talked about this all year long with our players. The fact that I have to sit here, after a playoff game, and discuss this, is ridiculous. That’s the point.”

Pacers general manager Donnie Walsh on the Knicks: “I think New York’s got a lot of class guys on that team — Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Rolando Blackman, Doc Rivers, Herb Williams — and I’m sure I’m leaving guys out. And I think they want to win and they know how. But they’ve got a couple of guys on that team that are fools, and everyone has known that all year.”

Despite Starks losing his mind in Game 3, the Knicks were able to cruise to a 3-1 series win.

Starks on Reggie after the Knicks advance: “To be honest, I think Reggie just ran out of gas. He was just passing at the end, acting like he really didn’t want to shoot. He was talking earlier, you know Reggie. But he didn’t say anything at the end.”


A year later, the Knicks and Pacers were reunited, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. With Michael Jordan in the midst of his first retirement, both the No. 2 seeded Knicks and No. 5 seeded Pacers saw a sudden opportunity to win a title, although ultimately that was something neither team would accomplish during this span.

Reggie on the rematch: “I want the Knicks.

“I like being the bad guy. Nothing wrong with that. We have too many guys making commercials, being the good guy. Everyone can’t be the good guy. Someone has to be the bad guy.”

Starks on the ‘93 headbutt: “It’s not so much what he said, it’s that he was giving me some cheap shots. But I’ve matured. I’m just going to concentrate on playing ball.”

Knicks coach Pat Riley on his team’s style: “Let’s be men about it. There’s a lot of different styles. As much as our style has been criticized, that’s who we are. We are not a bunch of dancers. We are not a cutting, back-door, passing team. We never will be. We win the game with our defense, our rebounding, and every now and then making some baskets. It’s not pretty but that’s how we play.”

Patrick Ewing on the Pacers: “I think they’re a lot like us. They play hard defense. They rebound the ball. They bang. They bump. They play hard. It’s a carbon copy of us, only thing we’re a little better, They’re a copy; we’re the real thing.”

Reggie Miller on the Knicks: “So much scrutiny is on the Knicks’ players here in New York to win a championship … they’ll do anything to win it.

“Sometimes they get a little desperate, and that’s when it becomes a little dangerous. That’s the only part that scares me, because they’re willing to do anything. Sometimes that causes an injury, not only to yourself but to your opponent.”

Reggie Miller on what his career would have been like in New York: “I don’t know what it would have been like. If I could answer that, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be with Dionne Warwick on the Psychic Hotline. But I do know this is the best place to play in the world. I love the smell of the rats, the smell of the zoo. And while I know I haven’t had a great relationship with the New York fans, they’re the most knowledgeable fans in all of basketball.”

Reggie Miller on quiet, on-court start to series: “I don’t know what you guys were expecting. “You were expecting me and John, when the jump ball went off, to start head-butting each other.” Of being held to a 17-point average in the series, Miller said, “I think Reggie Miller’s best is yet to come.”

Pacers forward Antonio Davis on playing Charles Oakley and the Knicks: “We have to play like jerks. If they want to play that way, we’ll have to, too.”

With the series tied 2-2, Miller delivered a classic Game 5 performance in a Pacers comeback win, scoring 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter. More than the buckets, the defining memory of this performance is of Miller putting his hands to his throat to signify choking while engaged in a heated exchange with Spike Lee, the Brooklyn filmmaker seated in his customary courtside seat.

Pacers forward Antonio Davis on the comeback and Spike: “I think it was Spike Lee — tell him thanks for us.

“Reggie is the king of talk and Spike definitely said something that set him off. I’m not sure what it was, but Reggie took us for a ride after that and we just hopped on board and everything flowed from him.”

Pacers forward Dale Davis on Reggie’s 4th quarter: “I have only seen Reggie get hot, get unconscious like that, one day in practice. It was a practice where he just threw it up and it would rip the nets. And it kept happening. And the only way it stopped was we stopped practice. That is what it was like out there tonight.”

Knicks forward Charles Oakley on Reggie’s Game 5: “I haven’t seen anything like that since Michael.”

Reggie Miller on Spike Lee: “Sometimes he opens his mouth a little bit too much.”

Spike Lee on Reggie’s Game 5 performance: “I had nothing to do with it. I’m not wearing a uniform. I’m 5-6, 125 pounds. He needs me to get fired up? Why couldn’t he go to Ewing or Starks or Oakley. Why me? After he scored a basket he wasn’t thinking about getting back on ‘D’ or looking for his man, he was staring at me.

“We’re going to win this series. I’ll be in Indiana at 7 A.M. on Friday, wearing a John Starks jersey. And I’m going to talk to Reggie.”

Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, popping up to take a shot at the Knicks: “It just seems to me that they’ve put together a group of guys who are not terribly skilled. The Knicks are predictable. Their offense is run on execution, not creativity. Any time you do that, you’re going to get forceful in tight spots.”

Knicks coach Pat Riley after New York won Game 6 in Indiana to force Game 7: “There was a massive, massive thud the other night, with everyone jumping off the bandwagon. And I’m sure now there’s a massive thud with everybody jumping back on.”

Back at Madison Square Garden for a winner-take-all Game 7, it was the Knicks who had the last say, for one year at least. Knicks center Patrick Ewing scored 24 points, grabbed 22 rebounds, dished out 7 assists and turned around 5 blocks in the win. Most importantly, he put back a missed Starks shot in the final minute to provide the deciding basket.

Pacers coach Larry Brown on Game 7 loss: “A great player made a great play.”

Patrick Ewing on his game-winning shot: “I feel if we’re going to lose, I’d rather it be in my hands. If we lose, I’ll get the blame anyway.”


Together again: A year removed from seven games in the 1994 East Finals, the No. 2 seeded Knicks and No. 3 seeded Pacers were reunited in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Knicks were looking to get back to the Finals after falling to the Houston Rockets in seven games in ‘94. Meanwhile, the Pacers were hoping to finally make it past New York.

Knicks forward Charles Oakley on hearing the Pacers wanted a rematch: “It’s like a boxer before the main event. They want to rumble? We’ll rumble.”

Knicks guard John Starks on a Pacers rematch: “We don’t hate them. They’re trying to accomplish something, we’re trying to accomplish something. We’ll both play to win.”

The series started off with an instant classic comeback for the ages authored by Reggie Miller. In perhaps the signature moment of his career, Miller scored eight points in nine seconds to secure a stunning Game 1 win for the Pacers at Madison Square Garden.

Reggie Miller after Game 1 comeback win: “Choke artists! Choke artists!”

Knicks forward Charles Smith on Reggie’s trash talk: “He reminds me of a guy I grew up with, who only ran his mouth when things went well and when his friends were around.”

Reggie Miller on his trash talk: “There’s nothing I don’t ever wish I didn’t say. If it comes out of my mouth, it was meant to be said.”

Pacers head coach Larry Brown on Reggie’s trash talk: “I never think you say anything about guys in your league like that. That kind of bothered me. I think sometimes he says things without even thinking.”

Pacers guard Byron Scott on Reggie’s Game 1 shouting: “I don’t talk like that, that’s Reggie.”

An additional war of words kicked up during the series between the Knicks and the referees regarding the foul trouble that Ewing found himself mired in during early games.

Knicks head coach Pat Riley on the Ewing and the referees: “What is upsetting is that he’s what this league stands for. He’s one of the good guys. He’s not controversial. He doesn’t say outlandish things. He doesn’t do anything to denigrate the league. He’s a great leader, a quiet leader. He’s a warrior. He practices. He plays in pain. He has earned his right to play the game and not be sitting on the bench.

“What has happened to him is unconscionable, from the standpoint of calls that are putting a great player on the bench. He does not get the respect of the other great centers in this league, and it is unconscionable that they treat him that way.”

Ewing on officiating in the series: “The last three games, I haven’t been able to play. I’m disappointed in the way the officials are calling the game. It seems like they have a vendetta out against me. I’m really upset about that.

“I don’t think they have a vendetta, but I’m frustrated. I want to play. I think I’m a big part of this team. I’m tired of sitting on the bench watching. We’re in the playoffs. Whichever way it goes, I should be on the floor. Three or four of my fouls were ticky-tacky. I’ve heard them say we have to adjust. How can we adjust? There’s nothing to adjust to.”

John Starks after the Knicks fell behind 3-1: “We’re going to win the series.”

Pacers forward Sam Mitchell on Knicks comeback talk: “Words have never won anything. They have to say stuff like that. You have to go out and prove it. He had better back it up.”

Complicating the Knicks’ attempts to come back to force a Game 7 for the second year in a row was the mounting injuries endured by Ewing.

Reggie Miller on Ewing playing through pain: “If you’re a fan, sitting in the stands, you can tell. But from our standpoint, when he steps on the court, he’s healthy. That’s how we have to look at it. He’s giving it his all. That’s Patrick. He’s the emotional and physical leader of that team. He’s never going to quit, he’s never going to die. He must be in a lot of pain, but he’s still playing.”

With Ewing hitting a game-winner in Game 5 and then pacing the Knicks with 25 points and 15 boards in a Game 6 win, the rivalry produced another Game 7. For the second year, the fateful shot would belong to the Knicks’ center. He came within inches of consecutive Game 7-winning buckets against Indiana, but his driving layup attempt rolled off the rim, sending the Pacers onto the East Finals.

Patrick Ewing on the final shot: “I thought I made a great move to get to the hole. I couldn’t have dunked it — I took off from too far. I thought it was in. I’m just very disappointed right now.

“I think we played with a lot of heart tonight.”

Pat Riley on the Knicks’ loss: “When you’re always trying to create miracles with five seconds to go, it’s not always going to happen for you.”

Pacers guard Bryon Scott when asked if he felt bad for Ewing: “For someone as great as he is, to have the ball in his hands and then miss a layup, yeah, I feel for him. We all want a ring, and I want another one, so I don’t feel for him that much.”


After avoiding each other in 1996 and 1997, the old foes faced off again in the 1998 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The No. 3 seeded Pacers and the No. 7 seeded Knicks were beginning to feature different supporting casts around their veteran stars — Miller and Ewing, respectively — as well as a new set of head coaches in Larry Bird and Jeff Van Gundy.

Reggie Miller on another Pacers-Knicks clash: ‘’I thought New York-Miami would be physical, but this one will be 10 times more physical because of the history of the teams. ‘There’s going to be a lot of thugging going on.’’

Reggie Miller on the difference between fans in Indiana and New York: ‘’The difference is, we can win a first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers and have a bunch of people at the airport in the rain. The difference is, Reggie Miller will not be booed in Market Square Arena. This difference is, Chris Mullin will not be booed in Market Square Arena.

‘’Patrick Ewing has been booed in Madison Square Garden, John Starks has been booed in Madison Square Garden, Phil Simms has been booed in the Meadowlands, Darryl Strawberry has been booed at Shea Stadium. Go on and on and on, and that’s the difference. I’ve been booed numerous times at the Garden.

‘’Is it a passion to have Poster Night for Patrick Ewing and to punch his face out of the poster and boo him while you put your face in there? ‘That’s a passion? I don’t want that passion.

‘’No question, you walk around this city and people can’t stand New York. You’re playing for a whole state here. Just to see the people in overalls come up to you and say, ‘Go get them boys’ — I like that.’”

After consecutive series that went the seven-game distance, the ‘98 encounter was a bit of a letdown for the casual fans hoping for drama: The Pacers jumped out to a 2-0 series lead in Indiana and just when it looked New York was going to level the series at the Garden in Game 4 it turned into Miller time.

Reggie on his overtime-forcing shot en route to the Pacers winning Game 4: ‘’They were stunned when I hit it. I like to feed off the emotions of the crowd and language of the players. I looked into Allan Houston’s and Patrick’s eyes, and they didn’t have that same fire they had when they were building their 8-point lead.’’

The Pacers would go on to win the series 4-1 before falling to the Chicago Bulls, once again led by Michael Jordan.

New York Times columnist Mike Wise on the Knicks’ coverage: “As a rule of thumb in New York sports journalism, no one ever beats the Knicks. They always find a way to beat themselves. Maybe that’s not fair.”


Not even a lockout-shortened regular season or improbable playoff seeding could keep the Knicks and Pacers apart. The Knicks, working Latrell Sprewell and Marcus Camby into the lineup after saying goodbye to mainstays John Stark and Charles Oakley, barely scraped into the postseason as the No. 8 seed. In the opening round, the Knicks stunned their latest rivals, the top-seeded Miami Heat. before sweeping aside the No. 4 Hawks. Meanwhile, the No. 2 Pacers entered the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals off a pair of sweeps.

Knicks shooting guard Allan Houston on facing Indiana: ‘’I can’t wait. This is what it’s all about. No matter who it is, whether it’s Reggie or someone else, this is where you are. And this is the challenge you face, the challenge you welcome.’’

Reggie Miller on renewing the rivalry: ’It’s been a great matchup. ‘They’ve always downplayed us, and we’ve always wanted to show the big city that we can play in a small market.

‘’It’s almost like a Broadway play coming to New York. ‘It’s going to be electrifying going there. By already hearing the chants on TV, and everyone calling and saying, ‘Hey, they really want you.’ The papers are saying it’s Miller time. I’m really gearing up for it. The waiting is killing me.’’

Cheryl Miller on what motivates her brother: ‘’The bigger the hatred, the more Reggie thrives. If New York wants to do themselves any good, shut up.’’

Patrick Ewing on preparing for the Pacers after a grueling clash with the Heat: “If we’re not prepared now, we’ll never be prepared. It’s going to be a war.’’

In Game 1, Ewing would hit a pair of go-ahead free throws with less than 30 seconds remaining as the Knicks won in Indiana. In Game 2, Miller would be the one making clutch free throws, with the immediate result being a deadlocked series and a lot of chatter about officiating.

Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy on Reggie Miller’s winning free throws in Game 2: ‘’Unfortunately, the NBA has come to a point where the way you try to win in the playoffs is by whining. And they whined about everything. They’re a great team, and I know they’re trying to take over for Chicago, but they didn’t have to do it in the whining category.’’

Pacers point guard Mark Jackson replied: ‘’Nothing, just them being what they said we were: a bunch of babies, a nursery and whining. There’s no time for crying and complaining. Just play basketball. That’s something I expected from Phil Jackson, not Jeff Van Gundy.’’

Pacers forward Jalen Rose on the series tied 1-1: ‘’Everybody thought Knicks-Pacers would be a war. And now we have one.’’

Befitting the war metaphor used so often in this series, the wounds were mounting for Ewing. Carrying multiple injuries into the series, he would finish Game 2, including taking a potential game-winning jumper, on a partially torn left Achilles tendon.

Knicks center Marcus Camby on playing without Ewing: ‘’Losing Patrick is definitely a blow for the team. We need to regroup and the other guys, including myself, have to show that we can carry this team to a title. We’ve had stretches when we’ve played without Pat before and we’ve played well. We’ll be focused and ready to play on Saturday.’’

By the start of Game 3, Ewing had been ruled out with the Achilles injury that he’d somehow endured through Game 2. With Ewing in a suit and the series back in New York, Knicks forward Larry Johnson would add yet another indelible moment in this series: the four-point play:

Knicks forward Larry Johnson on his four-point play: ‘’Big shot. I’ve never hit anything like that, maybe in high school. I don’t remember. It was a big thing in high school, but nothing bigger than today.

‘’When you hit it, it doesn’t sink in until the game ends. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, my.’ And there’s Spike Lee coming at you. And the Garden crowd. Wow. You know, I thought it was good when I let it go. As good as it feels, you can’t go and celebrate too much. You can have a great win, a great shot and still lose the series, 4-2. The main thing was, we hung around and hung around.’’

Pacers point guard Mark Jackson on LJ’s four-point play: ‘’That’s a tough call. After 47 minutes and 55 seconds, it’s a tough way to lose a ball game. But I don’t think it would be rewarding to cry and complain. There’s no sense in crying like those guys.

‘’I think it would probably have killed lesser teams. But we still feel real good. We’ll come in here and take care of business tomorrow. Tough loss, tough one to swallow. But so be it. It can affect a Portland or a regular team. It’s not going to affect us.’’

The Pacers would bounce back to win Game 4, leveling the best-of-seven series 2-2, but the Knicks, playing fast and loose as a No. 8 seed without their long-time center, rolled to wins in Games 5 and 6 to win the series without facing a Game 7

Reggie Miller on the Pacers’ Game 6 loss: ‘’I didn’t make the shots. ‘I take responsibility for this. I lost this game for us. They really competed tonight, but I’ve got to accept the blame.’’

2000: ‘I HATE THEM’

Once more into the breach: The 2000 NBA Playoffs paired the No. 1 seed Pacer and the No. 3 seed Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. For the third matchup on the bounce, the Pacers would open at home as the team with the better regular-season record.

Reggie Miller on the Knicks: “I hate them.

“They always think they’re bigger and badder than everyone. And we know they don’t give us any respect. So why should I give respect or like someone that doesn’t give us respect?

“Personally, I wanted to play New York, somewhat exorcise some demons. We have beaten New York, but it’s never been in a conference final. Detroit had to get by Boston, Chicago had to get past Detroit. So there’s always that team you’ve got to get by to get to the next level, and New York is that team for us.”

Knicks center Marcus Camby on this rivalry being more personal than Knicks-Heat: “‘Player-wise, it’s more personal. Last series was more about Riley, he used to coach the Knicks and all the hoopla. But now it’s about Reggie, his comments he made before Game 1, saying we’re arrogant, we don’t respect them and stuff like that. It’s a mental adjustment, no doubt.’’

Pacers head coach Larry Bird on the rivalry with the Knicks: “It’s really hard for me to be [ticked] off at a team that I have more championship rings than.”

Knicks forward Larry Johsnon on Reggie Miller: ‘’That’s all Reggie does is talk. Reggie probably wants to play New York so bad it’s pitiful. In the four years since I’ve been here, that’s all he does is talk, talk, talk, talk.’’

Knicks swingman Latrell Sprewell on the Pacers: ‘’I love Chris Mullin. I respect Larry Bird. I do think there is a certain amount of respect for the players. I don’t care what Reggie said. He has to respect us like we respect him.’’

With the Knicks once again arriving in Indianapolis bruised and battered from a series with the Heat, the Pacers jumped out to a 1-0 series lead behind a huge Game 1 effort from Austin Croshere.

The Pacers doubled their series lead by winning Game 2, as Knicks center Patrick Ewing was forced out early with a strained foot tendon. This latest Ewing injury reignited debates about whether the new-look Knicks featuring Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Marcus Camby were better off without the franchise legend. Oddly enough, as the series went along, some Pacers players tended to show more empathy for Ewing than New York media.

Pacers point guard Mark Jackson on Patrick Ewing: ‘’I don’t think he’s appreciated as much as he should be. Here’s a guy who plays hurt and continues to play hurt. He’s a warrior, a phenomenal teammate, with a tremendous heart. I don’t have any sympathy for him; I have tremendous admiration and respect for him. I’m proud of the way he stands as a man and as a basketball player. His career speaks for itself.’’

Pacers coach Larry Bird on how the New York media treats Ewing: ‘’It’s terrible how he gets treated here. Just terrible. After everything he’s done for them, it’s not right.’’

Pacers center Rik Smits taking a dig at Ewing after Knicks win Game 4: “Look at the percentage with or without him. I hope he comes back.”

With Sprewell breaking out in Game 3, New York was able to pull even 2-2 in the series, setting the stage for more drama between the teams as well as around Ewing’s return to the lineup. With the Big Fella back in the lineup for Game 5, the Knicks raced out to an 18-point lead, but Indiana stormed back to regain control of the series.

In what would be his final game for the Knicks before being traded to Seattle in Sept. 2000, Ewing did what he could to force a Game 7, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Sprewell went for 32, but no other Knicks player managed more than 10 points.

Reggie Miller on his relief to win Game 6: “Game 7 would have been too much pressure for us. This was our Game 7.”

Ewing after the Knicks elimination: “I’m very proud of my teammates. I think we worked extremely hard. The outcome doesn’t show all the work and effort and the energy we put to get back to the championship. I thought we worked hard. We deserve to be there, but I guess it wasn’t our turn again.”

The Pacers would go on to the 2000 NBA Finals to face Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, losing in six games. Neither team would win a championship in these years. Of course, maybe the real trophies are the frenemies we made along the way.


After this meeting, it would be more than a decade before the franchises resumed hostilities in the playoffs. In 2013, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks against Paul George and the Pacers. In 2024, it was Tyrese Haliburton’s Pacers coming into Madison Square Garden to take on Jalen Brunson’s Knicks in another chippy series. Both series offered stars and sparks, but the hold of the 1990s on the matchup remains unshakeable.

Just like Reggie Miller wants it.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top