Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Sports

Rev up emotions for Heat-Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS — Ignore the filtered adjectives and sanitized answers from the Heat and Pacers leading up to today's start of the Eastern Conference final. The quiet hours before tipoff had tongues on best behavior.

"They're a tough team, the one we expected to meet all along," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said of the Pacers.

"We've got to play a near-perfect game to beat the Heat, and everyone around here knows it," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said.

Don't listen to such bubble-wrapped emotion now to gauge the temperature of this rivalry.

Listen to them then.

Rewind the tape and hear what the Heat and the Pacers have said the past few years to understand the bubbling blood that walks on the court for Game 1 this afternoon, the third straight time the teams have met in the playoffs.

No team in sports has won as much as the Heat of late. No team has won so little and talked as big as Indiana.

Some simple asides have caught the Heat's attention, as when Pacers center Roy Hibbert said on Twitter to the Trail Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge after their December game, "See you in the Finals."

Other comments aren't asides.

"The Heat are the biggest flopping team in the NBA," Vogel said before the 2012 series.

"Built Not Bought," was the anti-Heat slogan this franchise adopted.

"Choke!" Indiana guard Lance Stephenson shouted from the bench, his hand around his throat, when LeBron James missed a late free throw in a 2012 playoff game.

"I'm not going to stoop down to Lance Stephenson," LeBron said then. "You guys want me to talk about Lance Stephenson? I'm not even going to give him the time. Knock it off."

Is the cocktail of emotions these teams carry into this series the reason Wade said before the conference semifinal with the Nets, when asked about bad blood with Paul Pierce, "There's more bad blood waiting out there for us?"

Former Gator Udonis Haslem can rub above his left eyebrow and feel the faded scar from nine stitches he got sticking up for Wade by battering Indiana's Tyler Hansbrough two years ago. Haslem received a one-game suspension from the league and a game ball from teammates for that.

"It's all fun to beat the Heat up in the media and say, 'The Heat are soft,' " Haslem said of the Pacers then. "But as soon as the Heat stand up and hit back it's not so fun anymore."

The lava is so close to the surface that emotions aren't just spewed at the other side. Wade and coach Erik Spoelstra shouted at each during a timeout in Indiana during the 2012 playoffs. LeBron jumped in the face of Mario Chalmers during a timeout this winter during an Indiana game. This how badly each team wants to beat the other.

The Heat still remembers Indiana's Paul George dancing on the AmericanAirlines Arena court after a Game 2 playoff win in 2012.

"I don't know if they didn't expect to win,: Wade said then. "But every night we go out on the court, we expect to win. They stated their identity. They said they wanted to be like Dallas (which won the 2011 title on the Heat's court). So they celebrated like Dallas, I guess."

Maybe Indiana has learned something after three years, though.

"I think we're ready this time, and we've got to show it — not talk about it, show it," Stephenson said Saturday.

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