It was a long, strange trip, but here we are with the Eastern Conference Finals rematch we all thought would happen once Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury in late November. It’s Pacers-Heat IV, and absolutely everything is on the line.
For Indiana, it’s a chance to shake off a post-February stretch rife with internal turmoil and strangely vacant performances late in the regular season and occasionally in the playoffs. It’s a chance to move on to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000, when Reggie Miller, Jalen Rose and Rik Smits fell in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, who completed the first step in what became the NBA’s first three-peat since Michael Jordan’s second run with the Bulls.
For Miami, it’s a chance to ascend into basketball immortality. Eleven teams have repeated as NBA champions since the Boston Celtics completed their run of 10 titles in 11 years in 1969, but only five outfits in the 68-year history of the league – George Mikan’s Lakers (1952-54), Bill Russell’s Celtics (1959-66), Jordan’s Bulls (1991-93, 1996-98) and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers (2000-02) – have captured three consecutive crowns. The Heat’s Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can not only join one of sports’ most exclusive guilds, but with a series victory over Indiana, Miami can be the first squad to qualify for four straight Finals since Larry Bird – the architect of these Pacers and Indiana’s coach in 2000 – guided the Celtics to four consecutive Finals appearances from 1984 to 1987.
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