The path to another installment of the intense Miami Heat-New York Knicks rivalry had just one more roadblock.
Unfortunately for those hoping for a storied matchup, that impediment — the Indiana Pacers — proved to be quite worthy of a spot in the NBA’s final four.
After outlasting the Knicks in Saturday’s Game 6, the third-seeded Pacers advanced to their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2004. The reward for their efforts is a date with NBA MVP LeBron James and the defending champion Miami Heat.
Indiana enters the matchup with enough momentum to justify a supreme level of confidence. The Pacers disposed of two playoff threats, the Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, and seem to be peaking at the right time. Despite the absence of standout Danny Granger for much of the year, the Pacers have won by playing team ball and watching a collection of players rise to the occasion.
On the other side, the Heat have been waiting for their opponent since Wednesday. While James has averaged just 24 points per game in the playoffs — down from his 26.8 average in the regular season — Miami has gone 8-1 in the postseason to sweep the Milwaukee Bucks and eliminate the Chicago Bulls.
The matchup of the star-studded Heat and the hard-working Pacers has proven to be tighter than it seems on paper. For more information on how LeBron and the Heat fared against Indiana during the regular season, view the list. Photos are from the team’s playoff series last season.
January 8: Pacers 87, Heat 77
Indiana and Miami didn’t meet until January, and at the time, the upstart Pacers found themselves just four games behind the Heat in the Eastern Conference standings. The Pacers proved that they would again be a threat to Miami by limiting the Heat to 77 points, which was a season-low. LeBron James scored 22 points but turned the ball over seven times, which tied a season high. Paul George led Indiana with 29 points, as the Pacers opened up a 17-point fourth quarter lead en route to victory.
February 1: Pacers 102, Heat 89
Roughly three weeks after the first meeting, the Pacers and Heat again met in Indiana with Miami hoping to exact some revenge. James scored a team-high 29 points and the Heat shot a much more respectable 47.1 percent from the field. But Miami had no answer for a multi-pronged Pacers attack. David West led all scorers with 30 points and four others contributed double-figures to move Indiana to 2-0 against the Heat. James scored just five of his points in the fourth quarter as the Pacers maintained their significant lead during the final frame.
March 10: Heat 105, Pacers 91
Despite the previous success against Miami, the Pacers were no match for a streaking Heat squad in the teams’ third and final meeting. Miami entered the contest having won 17 straight games, and the Pacers became victim No. 18. Three Heat players topped 20 points, though LeBron James wasn’t one — the Heat star tallied just 13 points (a season low) while handing out seven assists. Mario Chalmers was the difference maker, scoring 26 points on 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range.