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Getting Nostalgic About Mike Miller's First Stint with Memphis Grizzlies

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2016

Getting Nostalgic About Mike Miller's First Stint with Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Memphis Grizzlies were in the market for a marksman, and veteran sharpshooter Mike Miller was looking for a new employer after being waived via the amnesty clause by the Miami Heat.

    So the two sides agreed to book a joint trip down memory lane. 

    ESPN's Marc Stein reports that Miller has agreed to a two-year contract with the Grizzlies, with a player option for 2014-15. Miller spent five-plus seasons in Memphis, where he enjoyed some of his most brilliant basketball moments.

    We've dusted off the game film, pored over the history books and compiled a list of Miller's five greatest moments during his first tour of duty in Memphis.

    From buzzer-beaters to franchise firsts, there were plenty of reasons for these parties to rekindle their relationship.

Miller Sinks Spurs

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    It was April 18, 2005. 

    FedEx Forum was playing host to a late-season clash between Miller's 44-win Grizzlies and the 59-win San Antonio Spurs. With playoff implications on both sides of the equation, the teams treated fans to a back-and-forth battle that went unsettled until the game's last second.

    Memphis struck the first blow and carried a 10-point edge into intermission. But the more seasoned Spurs responded with a 24-16 edge in the third quarter, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.

    The Spurs tested that assumption, though, and built a six-point lead on a pair of Manu Ginobili free throws with 1:49 left in regulation. 

    From that point on, it was simply Miller time. After Stromile Swift split two free throws, Miller finished a strong drive at the rim then added a triple on the ensuing possession.

    With the score knotted at 90, Tim Duncan calmly buried his trademark 15-footer to give the Spurs a two-point advantage with just 28 seconds left in the game. But Miller responded with another layup less than six seconds later.

    Robert Horry, a crunch-time shooter whose late-game exploits earned him the nickname "Big Shot Bob," failed to deliver and Pau Gasol devoured the miss. The Grizzlies had one last chance to save face in front of their home fans but needed someone capable of creating magic in 1.8 seconds or less.

    Miller was that magician. He set a solid back screen, leaving two defenders chasing one offensive player toward the rim. He curled out of the pick, caught Jason Williams' inbounds pass, turned and fired.

    The ball ripped through the nylon as the buzzer sounded. Game over. Grizzlies win. 

Letting It Fly at a Record Rate

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    Miller did just about everything well during the two seasons he spent at the University of Florida.

    He was an efficient scorer, created for others when needed and had a knack for tracking down loose balls and errant shots.

    But first and foremost he was a shooter. And it didn't take long for that skill to transition to the big league.

    The 2000-01 Rookie of the Year, Miller connected on his perimeter looks at a 40.7-percent clip during his debut season for the Orlando Magic. A midseason swap sent him to Memphis two years later, where he drilled half of his shots from downtown in his 16 games to close out the year.

    On January 3, 2007, though, even he had to be impressed with his perimeter display in the Grizzlies' 144-135 track meet win over the Golden State Warriors.

    The sniper scored a team-high 33 points, hitting 11-of-15 from the field and 9-of-12 from beyond the arc. Those nine triples set a new franchise record for the Grizzlies.

    If his selfless play wasn't apparent enough from the fact that he took just 15 shots despite drilling nearly everything he let fly, it was glaring from the seven assists he tossed out in less than 31 minutes of action.

First Taste of Playoff Basketball

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    Miller had savored a sliver of postseason play before he arrived in Memphis. His Magic teams made back-to-back playoff appearances in his first two seasons in the league, but neither run survived past the opening round.

    By Memphis' basketball standards, though, Orlando was a relative hotbed of success.

    The Grizzlies, whose NBA journey started in Vancouver in the 1995-96 season, had suffered through seven fruitless seasons before Miller came to town.

    While the former Gators star couldn't curb that trend right away, it wasn't long after his debut that postseason hoops finally made their way to Memphis.

    A full-time starter by 2003-04, Miller helped lead the Grizzlies to a franchise-best 50 wins. It would be eight long years before Memphis eclipsed that group's .610 winning percentage.

    The Grizzlies grabbed hold of the sixth seed in the Western Conference that season but were swept in four games by the Spurs.

Over the Hill and Back in the Record Books

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    When interim coach Tony Barone took over for Mike Fratello 30 games into the 2006-07 season, his first plan of action was simply to get out of his players' way.

    That meant no more controlled half-court sets and no more defensive battles. Barone's Grizzlies were a freewheeling bunch who tried outrunning opponents when they couldn't outperform them.

    Whenever his team squared off with Don Nelson's running Warriors, it was simply can't-miss television.

    But their meeting on February 22, 2007less than two months after the teams combined for 279 points in a regulation gamewasn't quite the outlandish offensive exhibition that fans had expected. While the Warriors eventually sprinted to a 118-115 win, the duo's combined 233 points were aided by a frenetic five-minute overtime session.

    As for Miller, though, he gave the fans all of the offensive fireworks the other players could not. 

    He erupted for a Grizzlies' franchise-record 45 points. With no intentions of easing up on Golden State defenders this time around, he shot 16-of-27 from the floor and 9-of-17 from three.

    He still managed to dish out six assists in the game but also coughed up six of the Grizzlies' 25 turnovers.

Super Sub

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    After helping to key the Grizzlies' first two playoff appearances as a member of the starting squad, Miller was pushed to the bench by 11-year veteran Eddie Jones at the start of the 2005-06 season.

    Rather than sulk over his demotion, Miller forced his way to an even heavier workload than he'd be given as a member of the opening lineup. His 30.6 minutes per game were the most he'd logged since donning a Grizzlies' jersey.

    And that wasn't the only number he improved that season.

    His scoring (13.7 points per game), rebounding (5.4) and shooting (10.3 field-goal attempts a night) rates climbed higher than they'd ever been in Memphis.

    With Miller serving as the steady hand of the second unit, the Grizzlies made it three consecutive playoff trips.

    While his teammates certainly appreciated his effort, they weren't the only ones who noticed Miller's masterful run. He took the Sixth Man of the Year award in a landslide, grabbing 88 of the 123 first-place votes.

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