The Heat and the Pacers are at exactly 17-17 in the regular season throughout the 2010’s, though this does not include the postseason, where the Heat are 12-7 against the Pacers for the decade, with three consecutive postseason series wins from 2012-14. This includes back-to-back Eastern Conference match-ups in 2013 and 2014.
Let’s take a look back at each year of match-ups, and look at which players stood out across the decade in these match-ups, ahead of the final tie-breaking game tonight.
The Heat and Pacers squared off twice in this calendar season within 2010. The Pacers were mediocre in this season, finishing with a 32-50 record, and this was the year in which Dwyane Wade won All-Star Game MVP, leading the Heat to a 47-35 record. Heading into the first match-up of the 2010’s on January 19, 2010, the Heat had won the first two games of the season series, and had no problems securing a 30-point victory in the match-up, a game where Wade and Michael Beasley combined for 53 points. Brandon Rush for comparison, led the Pacers in scoring with just 17 points.
The next match-up was much closer, an overtime effort, but the Heat still ended up sweeping the season series, with a 105-96 victory, and a 43 point outing by Wade, despite 54 points combined from Danny Granger and Troy Murphy.
This was the first season of Miami’s “Big Three Era” of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Wade, and the team had no problems handling a middling Pacers team that won 37 games this year. The Pacers did manage to capture an early season win behind 40 points combined from Rush and Granger, but this was before the Heat had actually begun to gel.
Miami closed the season with 58 wins, and two more wins over the Pacers, one game where James finished with 41 points, and one where Wade finished with 41 points himself. Paul George was a rookie this season, and began to play more as the season went on, and put up 14 points on three-of-four 3-pointers in the final match-up of the season, a 110-103 victory for the Heat. This was the beginning of George’s interactions with the “Big Three”, and it certainly would not be the last.
In the lockout season of 2011-12, the Pacers had a good year, finishing 42-24, while the Heat finished 46-20. The two teams were clearly neck-and-neck and were destined for a playoff meeting. The Heat still won the regular season 3-1, but George had officially begun to come out of his shell. On top of this, the supporting cast of the Pacers was impressive, with defensive monster Roy Hibbert, promising guards George Hill and Darren Collison, as well as Tyler Hansbrough (Udonis Haslem’s best friend), David West and future Heat legend Josh McRoberts. Larry Bird won Executive of the Year that year for his work, just as Pat Riley had done with the Heat the year before.
The Heat spent most of this season with largely the same roster as before, but played Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony more at center, as opposed to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had played for the Heat the year before.
Because of the impressive play by both teams, they both met in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, after the Heat handled the New York Knicks, and the Pacers dispatched the Orlando Magic. The Heat won in six games, with dominant play from James, who led the Heat in all three major statistical categories three times in the series, going 2-1 in those games. This was also the series in which Haslem famously committed a hard flagrant foul on Hansbrough, showing the raw intensity felt by both teams in the match-up.
The Heat went on to win its first title of the decade, over the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games.
The Pacers were seen by the mass media in the 2012-13 as one of the biggest threats to the “Big Three”’s chances of repeating as a title winner. These claims were supported by the fact that Paul George won Most Improved Player this year, and the Pacers won the season series versus the Heat for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Miami wound up finishing with a franchise-best 66-16 record, but two of those losses were to the Pacers, who finished with a 49-32 record, having not played a game at Boston due to the Boston Bombing that year.
The two superpowers met in the playoffs that year for the second year in a row, with the second-seeded Heat having home-court advantage over the third-seeded Pacers. Hibbert, Hill, George and West all played their souls out against the dominant trio of James, Bosh and Wade. Hibbert had an especially good series, as he was one of the better centers in the league at the time, and finished the series with 22.1 points, 10.4 rebounds and one block per game, while PG13 poured in 19.4 points per game and the young Lance Stephenson hustled every play.
It took every fiber of strength for the Heat to surmount the Pacers, but LeBron’s dominant series of 29 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks per game were too much to handle as the Pacers established themselves as the Heat’s Eastern Conference arch-nemesis. The Heat would go on to win the 2013 NBA Championship after Bosh and new-addition Ray Allen’s Game Six heroics led the Heat to their ultimate comeback Championship run.
After getting handled by the Heat in the 2013 playoffs, the Pacers were out for revenge and split the season series in 2013-14 with the Heat. The Pacers would go on to a 56-26 record, ahead of the Heat in the final standings. This of course led to yet another Eastern Conference Final showdown with Indiana, who were seeded in the top slot.
Stephenson became a much better player in this season, and the supporting cast of the Pacers around superstar Paul George was still great, but the Heat still dispatched the Pacers in just six games. Both Wade and James were scoring above or near 20 points a game, with the duo combining for 42.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 10.2 assists, 3.5 steals and one block per game.
This ultimate match-up was the last of the decade in the postseason for the Pacers and Heat, and this storied rivalry is often forgotten when talking about the great rivalries within the NBA’s history. (Author’s note: some of my fondest memories of the Heat were watching the series in 2013 and 2014 with my younger brother, who inspired this story, and grew up a fan of the Pacers and Paul George, who he no longer associates with).
Next up we will take a look at how this rivalry has been in modern Heat history, post-LeBron and post-Wade, from 2015 to now.