In order for a rivalry to become a full-blown blood feud, there needs to be a little back and forth in the games themselves. The Knicks and Celtics, on paper, should hate each other, but on the court, New York is never seriously competitive so it doesn’t really resonate.
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Enter the current Bucks-Pacers budding discontent.
Can we really deem this some crazy beef when Milwaukee has lost four of five to Indiana and has held the Pacers to no less than 122 points in any meeting? The only time the Deer were successful, they needed 64 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Sure, sure, the ballyhoo over the game ball plays, but holy hell, Tyrese Haliburton turns into the second coming of Jesus whenever he goes up against the Bucks’ backcourt, averaging 27, 11, and 6. He has 55 assists to 7 turnovers in those games and basically operates with impunity against Damian Lillard, Malik Beasley and Co.
There is a distinct difference between this and other one-sided rivalries: The “underdog” is doing the dictating. For Milwaukee, this feels reminiscent of the brain block that Dirk Nowitzki’s Mavs had against the We Believe Warriors. The Bucks are 23-6 against the rest of the league and haven’t been beaten twice by anybody other than Indiana.
The Pacers have tallied totals of 142, 122, 126, 128 and 126 for an average of 128.8 per outing. This iteration of the Bucks cedes 119 points per game, good for 24th in the league, so they haven’t exactly been a defensive juggernaut in the other 29 games. It’s just that whatever the approach is to the Pacers, Rick Carlisle and Haliburton are blazing through it like paper-mache.
After Wednesday’s 142-130 loss, the second in consecutive games to Indiana, Antetokounmpo admitted that he sees navy blue and gold in his nightmares.
“I think we realize as a team that there are teams out there that can beat us four times in a season. Now you have that, you think about it — when you go back home, when you sleep, when you wake up, you think about it. Now, when you go back and work out, you think about it.
“On the All-Star Break, when you gonna be at exciting beach with your family, I hope you think about it. When you’re about to get freaky at night, you think about it.”
I’m not sure about that last one. Seems like it’d be more of a useful thought for later in the — whatever never mind.
Despite the admission doubling as a cardinal sin against Adam Silver, Lillard said the Bucks were actually trying.
“I think the embarrassing part is that we’re just so much better than what we’ve shown in the games against them,” Lillard said. “I also don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, it’s just the regular season.’ We wanted to win these games.”
Look guys, I love the candor, but these moments of clarity are enhancing the Pacers’ confidence in a potential playoff series as the two clubs don’t meet again this season. There’s currently a log jam for spots four through eight in the East, with Indiana squarely in that scrum at 19-14.
It’s unlikely that Milwaukee will fall out of the top three considering how they’ve played versus the other 30 teams, so a Bucks-Pacers series is possible. If it’s another gentleman’s sweep in favor of Indiana, it won’t constitute a rivalry; the two teams will simply have “history.”