INDIANAPOLIS – So after the furious start and the tempered finish along with a manic run through a pair of NBA Playoff series, it has finally come down to what everyone expected when the season tipped off on October 31st.
The Pacers-with home court advantage-are facing the Heat for the Eastern Conference Championship. All is right with the world even if getting there required a few more bumps and bruises along the way.
“We knew going into this thing that it wasn’t going to be easy and it’s not scripted,” said forward David West. “Just because you look at seeding and see what one team has on paper versus another team that it’s going to go a particular way. The games have to be played and we knew we had a tough draw particularly with Washington in the second round.
“That was a challenge that we looked forward to and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Because of that the Pacers find themselves in the position they wanted to be in 50 weeks earlier when the lost Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat in Miami. That 99-76 loss kept Indiana from making its first NBA Finals appearance since 2000 and became a rallying cry from that minute on.
“It’s been on my head the whole season,” said guard Lance Stephenson of the Game 7 loss to Miami last year. “I couldn’t wait till we got to this point again. I’m eager for this game.”
As the Pacers take the floor against the Heat for the third consecutive year in the playoffs, the way they can finally reverse the result of the past two could be the attitude to which they face the two-time defending NBA Champions. According to forward Paul George, it’s simple.
“We gotta have a little edge coming into this series,” said George on Saturday about the first game of the best-of-seven series, which will be played out at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. “This team has beat us twice now, ended our season early two times in a row so they’re has got to be an edge to come out and take this team out.”
It’s not like the Pacers haven’t done so before, especially in the regular season and especially at home. In two meetings with Miami at Bankers Life Fieldhouse the Pacers came out with victories and had a competitive game against the Heat in December at American Airlines Arena before the game got away in the fourth quarter.
Of course things have changed a bit since the two teams last met in March in Indianapolis–a one-point Pacers victory. The Heat have played some of their best basketball in the playoffs as they blew through Charlotte and Brooklyn in the first two rounds, posting an 8-1 overall record.
Meanwhile the Pacers have had to fight for it after a late season slump had them stumbling into the playoffs. They had to play the full seven against the Hawks in the first round–a series in which they trailed 3-2–and then went six against the Wizards in the East Semifinals.
But head coach Frank Vogel believes the team is sure of itself as it heads towards the conference finals against the streaking Heat–knowing what they went through will only make them stronger over the course of seven games.
“These guys have eliminated us two years in a row so we know what they’re capable of, we have great respect for them but we’re hoping to rise to the challenge,” said Vogel.
It’s been one that’s been in the making for almost a year.