The Miami days: LeBron vs. Paul George
Prior to moving to Cleveland, LeBron didn't really have much history with the Pacers outside of routinely beating them when they met up.
In 27 games from 2003-04 to 2009-10, James posted an 18-9 record against Indiana in the regular season, even winning nine games in a row from December 9, 2006, to December 5, 2008, a full two-year span in which Indiana didn't get a single win over LeBron's Cavs.
After going to Miami, however, that would change. In LeBron's four years with the Heat, he matched up with Indiana in the playoffs three times and dispatched them from competition all three times.
With the exception of 2010-2011, James' inaugural year with Miami and the year the Pacers made the playoffs with a 37-45 record due to a horrendous Eastern Conference, Indiana vs Miami was a mainstay on fans' television screens until 2014.
Their first playoff meeting was in 2012, in which Miami won in six games. While Indiana put up a decent fight, winning two games and playing some balanced basketball, it was clear that they were still a tier or two lower than the Heat, who dispatched them in six, including a 32-point clobbering in game five to win the series and go on to the Conference Finals against Boston.
This series is perhaps not even best known for the play on the court but rather for Lance Stephenson's antics from the bench, as despite only playing seven minutes across two games in the series, Stephenson still managed to make headlines early in his career with a "choke" gesture towards LeBron James after a missed free throw in the third quarter of a lopsided Indiana win.
Despite Stephenson being a lowly bench player at the time, LeBron and the Heat did not take kindly to this gesture, and reports came out later that three Heat players were sent to the Pacers locker room to address Lance, a rumor that has not been confirmed to be true.
With Indiana being a tier or two lower than Miami in 2012, they seemed to have closed that gap by a decent margin in 2013, as they improved their record to 49-32 in the next season, good for first in the Central Division and the third seed in the East.
After dispatching the Hawks in the first round and the New York Knicks in the second round, one of the most exciting playoff series in recent Pacers memory, LeBron and the Heat were waiting for them with bated breath.
This would, unfortunately, be the closest Indiana ever came to beating LeBron and the Heat in the playoffs, as this series went down to the wire, going seven games before a 99-76 blowout in favor of Miami decided things and sent the Heat to the NBA Finals and the Pacers packing.
While Danny Granger may have been the previous series star, this series was about Indiana's new but relatively short-lived dynamic duo of Roy Hibbert and Paul George.
Fresh off winning a Most Improved Player award, George more than held his own against James in the playoffs, averaging 19 points, six rebounds, and five assists to go along with multiple highlight plays, including the play that many consider defines the Paul George era in Indiana, a thunderous dunk over Chris Andersen in the third quarter of game three, a moment that is still talked about to this day as one of the most exciting moments in Pacers history.
While George was fantastic in his coming out party, and Hibbert was somehow even better, averaging 22 points and 10 rebounds, Indiana still didn't provide enough to beat Miami, which showed in the box scores.
Despite winning three games out of seven, LeBron James still led every game in the series in scoring, and Indiana was clearly missing Danny Granger, who missed all but five games in the 2012-13 season, including the entire playoffs. Back to the drawing board they went.
The 2013-14 Indiana Pacers were a team of high expectations, exceeding such expectations, superstar breakouts, and a monumental collapse.
After going 46-13 in the first 59 games of the season and gracing the cover of SLAM magazine, Indiana collapsed the rest of the way, going 10-13 in the remaining 23 games amid whispers of locker room turmoil around two trades, one which shipped Danny Granger away and got Evan Turner, and one that brought noted headcase Andrew Bynum to Indiana.
Despite this, and Roy Hibbert's production dropping drastically after the All-Star Break, Indiana still finished 56-26 and nabbed the first seed in the East, beating out LeBron's Heat by two games.
However, the playoffs would bring about a different story. After narrowly avoiding elimination at the hands of the eight-seeded Hawks and beating the Wizards in six games, Indiana faced James and the Heat for the third season in a row.
This time, however, it was clear the team had run out of gas, as a combination of chemistry issues and just being outmatched in a series got the better of Indiana, as they lost in six games to the Heat and watched LeBron and company make their fourth NBA finals in a row.
Despite Paul George taking another step up in the playoffs, increasing his average to 24 points per game and actually being the biggest scorer in the series, surpassing LeBron's 22.8 points per game, this series is, for better or worse, remembered for the antics of Lance Stephenson.
Most notably, this game is remembered for Stephenson blowing in James' ear in a narrow Game 5 victory for Indiana. However, this game would be the last gasp the Pacers had of being a legit contender in the Paul George era, as a 92-117 loss in Game 6 would be the final Pacers playoff game past the first round since that day.
In some ways, it's quite poetic how things ended. Miami's battles with Indiana started with Lance Stephenson's antics when he was a bench warmer and ended with even more antics when he was a legitimate starter.