It was a legitimate debate.
As far as NBA bar room arguments go, it was up there with the best. Who's the better player: Reggie Miller or Ray Allen?
Aesthetics said to go with Allen. His silky smooth jump shot is the epitome of perfect form. The Bob Bigelow's of the world drool over this guy. At youth summer basketball camps across the region, you could sit down 12-year-olds Monday through Friday, 9-to-5, and make them watch an endless loop of Allen shooting J's and they would likely get more out of it than the 12 games of knockout and the dunk contests on 7-foot rims that typically transpire.
Miller's shot, meanwhile, is painful to look at. His hands cross on the release and he pushes the ball into the air like a seal playing with a beach ball.
Still, NBA TV and ESPN Classic say to go with Miller. And up until now, I've always been on the former Pacers guard's side of the argument. Outside of Michael Jordan, no marquee player in the league played in more big games in the 1990s. His feuds with Spike Lee, clutch shots against the Knicks and Bulls and general bravado on the court are the stuff of legend. In addition, Miller never had the kind of help that Ray Allen or even Jordan had to get his hands on the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Where was his Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Scottie Pippen?
Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Jermaine O'Neal, Chuck Person, a worn down Mark Jackson and a tired Chris Mullin were OK sidekicks for Miller. None were on the level of the three guys mentioned above when they played with Miller.
While Miller-led squads routinely wound up in the Eastern Conference Finals and would have likely won a title if not for the greatest guard of all-time (Jordan), at his peak, playing in the same conference at the same time, Allen-led Milwaukee and Seattle squads never did much of anything in the postseason. Allen's best shot at winning a title as the main man ended when Allen Iverson's 76ers beat Ray's Bucks in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. The 2001 Sixers (a weak NBA finalist by all accounts) would go on to get throttled by the Lakers in Finals.
But Allen has made up for all that lost time with the Celtics. Had he not been traded to Boston, his career may have fizzled out and he could actually be out of the league right now (though a Kevin Durant-Allen combo would have been intriguing). Remember, at the time of the trade in 2007, Allen was fresh off surgery on both of his ankles. He had already had ankle surgery in 2003. He was damaged goods and minutes as the main man on an NBA team are a lot more daunting than minutes as the No. 2 or No. 3 option. The trade truly saved Allen's career and in the end, turned the Miller/Allen debate around.
Due to the trade, Allen was put in clutch situations and in big time games, and more often than not, he has delivered. His grandest moment came in the 2008 NBA Finals in Game 4 when he made Sasha Vujacic look like a steal chair, blowing by him for the game-winning layup. Allen put up 20.3 ppg in the 2008 Finals and had a legitimate case for series MVP over Pierce (the lifetime achievement award came into play for No. 34 more than many would like to admit). His 32 points in Game 2 of the 2010 NBA Finals was a brilliant performance, hitting Larry Bird-like shots with ease throughout the entire contest. There was also his 51 point explosion in Game 6 of the opening round series against the Bulls in 2009, which many forget.
Detractors will point to Game 7 of last year's Finals against the Lakers, where it seemed he couldn't buy a bucket. Sure, offensively he was putrid. But what about the guy he was guarding in that game?
Kobe Bryant, "the best player in the game" many claim, went a downright disgusting 6-for-24 from the floor on the biggest stage possible. Allen was all over him the entire game and had Ron Artest missed a three-pointer, we would be glorifying Allen's defense to this day. Instead, we remember the shots he missed.
Could Miller have shutdown Bryant in Game 7 of an NBA Finals? All signs point to absolutely not.
Miller may have flopped his way to a passable defensive outing, but this is a guy that used to struggle with the Lindsey Hunters of the world.
Ray Allen will likely move past Miller, who will be in the house as a TNT announcer, on the all-time 3-pointers made list tonight.
With it, he will put an end to the argument. It's no longer just the aesthetics that back him up.
Sports Editor Matt Burke can be reached at 978-283-7000 ext. 3444 or at email@example.com