Reggie Miller was pissed off. In the third quarter of last Wednesday's game against the Utah Jazz, he took his trademark No. 31 finger bands off and hurled them into the stands.
Fans were chanting, "One more year! One more year!"
He'd gone 1-for-5 shooting in the first half and his shots were clanking off the back iron. Once he'd gotten rid of the bands, he hit a 25-foot jumper to help seal the game.
"Just a little souvenir for the kids," he said after the game, his anger gone.
Two nights later, he was back in classic Miller form, draining threes, getting archnemesis Kobe Bryant into foul trouble, running the floor and generally partying like it was 1995.
He lit up the Lakers for 39 points, his highest total in five years. Fans were chanting, "One more year! One more year!"
It took Miller less than 10 seconds to dismiss that notion after the game. "Everyone can think what they want to, but it's not going to change my mind," he said. "It's still going to happen," he said of his retirement.
But unlike some future Hall of Famers in their last year, Miller isn't talking much about leaving the game. A source close to the team said he's turned down numerous interview requests from national and international media, choosing to grant exactly one exclusive interview, to a reporter he's known and trusted for a long time.
Nobody except his closest friends and teammates know what's really going on in Reggie's head; for someone who's done hundreds of interviews over the last 20 years, he's said surprisingly little about himself.
"The legend lives on," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said after Miller's performance against the Lakers. "The next time you see a 39-year-old going for 39 points ... you won't see it in his lifetime."
"We obviously don't want him to retire," said the Pacers' Stephen Jackson. "I think he's got at least three years left in him. We all want him back."
"Reggie played like young Reggie tonight," a frustrated Bryant admitted after the game.
But less than 48 hours after that triumph, the Pacers hosted the New Jersey Nets and watched helplessly as Vince Carter scored 39 points himself, giving a temporary setback to the Pacers' playoff hopes.
Miller started off the game by missing four of his first five shots, completely off his rhythm against a tougher defensive team.
It's been that kind of year for the squad. Forget about the suspensions arising from the Detroit brawl; this is a team that's been torn apart by injuries, inconsistent play and frustrating losses.
Still, considering everything, the Pacers still had a 33-32 record going into Tuesday night's game at New Jersey and appear likely to make the playoffs, quite an accomplishment for such a frustrating season.
With fewer than 10 regular-season home games left, and Jermaine O'Neal out for all of them, the Pacers have to turn to Miller and Jackson for whatever offense they're going to get. Even without his pending retirement, Miller would have been the go-to guy in times like these.
This season will be remembered not for the Miller moments, of course, as much as it will be remembered for the Nov. 19 brawl in Detroit. For the price of a cup of beer at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Pistons fans were able to derail what looked to be one of the all-time great Pacer teams.
Everywhere you go in Conseco Fieldhouse, there are subtle reminders of that incident. A large placard with the new "NBA Fan Code of Conduct" is featured prominently outside the gift shop.
"Guests will not engage in fighting, throwing objects or attempting to enter the court, and those who engage in any of these actions will immediately be ejected from the game," it says in part, adding that "players will respect and appreciate each and every fan."
In the Pacers' locker room, Ron Artest's name is still above his locker. Since rejoining the team's practice squad, he's stayed out of the public eye, but both the brawl and Artest's actions during it are on the minds of fans.
His blue No. 91 jersey, one of the most-requested items at the gift shop, has been out of stock for months in all but toddler sizes and the official NBA Store won't sell them.
Artest has become a mythic figure this year, more conspicuous in his absence than he was while playing. There is a sense among many fans that the Pacers are being persecuted above and beyond their alleged on-court crimes. "Kobe Bryant or Shaq wouldn't have gotten a year's suspension," one fan told me at Friday's game. "We're being punished because we're a small market."
Being eternal optimists - the Pacers haven't won a championship since Miller was in grade school after all - Pacer fans still hold out hope for a successful playoff run, as unlikely as it sounds.
Without Artest, O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley, there are huge holes in the Pacers' play. If Stephen Jackson or Miller doesn't have a hot shooting night, they're going to get blown out most nights.
But still. Still. If Reggie has one more post-season left in him, if O'Neal recovers, if Artest is freed ...
Meanwhile, the sell-out crowds have been cheering Miller each time he comes in or out of the game. Dale Davis, another living reminder of the Pacers' legacy, is also being treated like royalty by the fans.
Some even hold out the unlikely hope that Miller will give the Pacers one more year, one more shot at a championship ring.
"When you can score your age in this league, it's not time to quit," Lakers coach Frank Hamblen said after Friday's game. "I'm going to give him a call and ask to be his agent."