The Pacers-Knicks rivalry may not be all the way back to raging inferno status, but Wednesday’s 125-91 drubbing of the New Yorkers brought something more than a little spark to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
There is no Reggie Miller in terms of personality, clutch performance and camera magnetism, but Paul George is on the way.
There are no Davis brothers, although you could make the argument David West is Dale and Antonio wrapped up in one quiet, forceful, badass package – and then some.
There is no Rik Smits, but Roy Hibbert is fighting many of the same physical and mental battles that confronted the Dunking Dutchman in his early years.
There is no Patrick Ewing, although Carmelo Anthony nicely fills the role of tortured Big Apple superstar, The Great Player Who Just Can’t Win the Big One.
There is no Charles Oakley, but there is Rasheed Wallace, assuming he ever gets healthy.
There is, and apparently always will be, Kurt Thomas.
There might well be two John Starks, given the way Lance Stephenson and J.R. Smith went after each other Wednesday night.
And there are no Pat Rileys, Larry Birds or Larry Brown to add imperial, immortal personalities to their respective benches. Truth be told there, are aren’t even any Jeff Van Gundys. Frank Vogel and Mike Woodson are underappreciated, high-quality coaches, but it ends there.
But the fact is both the Pacers and Knicks once again are among the best in the Eastern Conference, battling for the same turf, targeting the same goal, knowing full well they very likely will have to go through each other to get there.
“If the playoffs started today, this would be the 2-3 matchup, which is pretty exciting, old-school NBA, getting back to Pacers-Knicks, which is fun,” Vogel said. “But aside from that, there’s a lot of talk about how we match up with Miami. There’s a lot of work to be done before we see Miami in the playoffs, hopefully, so we’ve got to take care of our business in the regular season, finish strong.
“This is a team that if we’re going to get as far as we want to get in the playoffs, we’re probably going to have to go through.”
The Pacers certainly went through them Wednesday night. And over, and around. They emerged from the All-Star break by conducting their own 3-point shootout (making 11) and slam-dunk contest (throwing down 10). George was a monster, once again, scoring 27 and harassing Anthony into a thoroughly ineffective night.
It became more than a game, however, thanks largely to Stephenson and Smith, precisely the guys you would expect to go chest-to-chest, elbow-to-jaw. There was chirping, there was bumping, there was pushing and shoving – and even the coaches for the two teams got involved in a shouting match when the players had to separated after the halftime horn.
“It happens in a blowout,” Vogel said. “The team that’s getting blown out gets a little edgy. That’s normal. I wouldn’t look anything into it other than that.”
Truth be told, I hope he’s wrong. I hope these two teams are developing a healthy dislike for each other. I hope this rivalry, not that long ago the most compelling in the NBA – and maybe in professional sport – fires back to life.
And who among us does not hope the Pacers and Knicks meet in the playoffs, something that hasn’t happened in 2000, when Indiana finally exorcised the demons and advanced to the NBA Finals.
There is one other thing. There is LeBron James and the Miami Heat, cast in the role of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, the dominant team, the ethereal talent, the peak of the mountain the Pacers and Knicks are scrambling to climb.
If we could only figure out a way to encourage LeBron to give baseball a try.