Familar First Round Foes
Boston and Indiana have met in the first round for three straight years
The Celtics and Pacers must feel like a broken record.
Three years running the Eastern Conference outfits have faced each other in the first round of the playoffs, making them the only pair of squads in NBA history to be placed in such a predicament.
Last season, top-seeded Indiana swept the series 4-0, while in 2002-03, No. 6 Boston notched an upset in six games.
This year, it is the C's holding the upper hand. In winning their first Atlantic Division title since the Larry Bird era concluded in 1991-92, when Boston finished in first on 10-of-13 occasions, the Celtics earned the No. 3 seed in the East. The Pacers, meanwhile, grabbed the six seed despite widespread doubt they would make it to the playoffs.
Having already been through two postseason series with Indiana, Boston knows it cannot afford to let Mr. Playoffs himself, Reggie Miller, get going. The Celtics used smothering perimeter defense on Miller in Game 1's win, forcing him to go without a three-point attempt for the first time in 129 playoff contests.
Equally attentive to Miller has been the Boston crowd, which has been unrelenting in their taunting of the NBA's career leader in three-point field goals.
"All I can say is please keep chanting his name," Indiana center Scot Pollard said after Miller responded with a team-high 28 points and the game-clinching basket in the second contest to even up the series. "Make him angry. Please Boston fans, make Reggie Miller angry. It’s great, thank you Boston fans."
Pollard's comments draw parallels to those made by former Los Angeles guard Byron Scott, now coach of the New Orleans Hornets. From 1980 to 1991, the Lakers or Boston, or both, made it to the NBA Finals, engaging in a heated rivalry that included one in that pair capturing the title on eight occasions. The duo squared off directly in The Finals three times, with Boston taking the first meeting and Los Angeles the last two.
"Going into the [Boston] Garden, the fans were crazy, because they knew we were the only team that could beat them," Scott told Basketball Digest in 2000. "They really seemed to get geared up against us, even more so. Just like when they came to Los Angeles we were ready for them. You talk about two great teams, two of the best teams that ever played, going head to head, so there is always going to be a rivalry there."
Historically, repeated meetings in the playoffs have not only fueled the league's greatest rivalries, but also the greatest duels. The centerpiece of those Laker and Celtic dynasties -- Magic Johnson and Bird, respectively -- saw their legends partly defined by how they fared against one another in their postseason runs.
Taking over as Pacers Team President July 11, 2003, Bird has transformed the organization since his arrival. His most significant transaction to date -- the hiring of coach Rick Carlisle -- took place less than two months after joining Indiana and led to a 13-win improvement in 2003-04, including a NBA-best 61-21 record.
Coincidentally, in a similar capacity in Boston, Bird's ex-Celtic teammate, Danny Ainge, has performed correspondingly well.
Hired May 9, 2003 as Director of Basketball Operations, Ainge turned over a roster that now includes just two players -- Paul Pierce and Mark Blount -- from before his tenure. Like Bird, he added a new coach in Doc Rivers, who contributed to Boston's nine-game improvement from last season.
With both franchises seemingly having found their rhythm after brief periods of mediocrity, don't be surprised to see Boston and Indiana meeting in the playoffs for years to come. If history is any indication, you'll hear about it -- repeatedly.