The blossoming animosity between the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks has been one of the most exciting storylines of the past few months and it is a shame that their season series is already over so soon.

These two teams have played each other five times this season, including the Pacers’ 128-119 win against the Bucks in the IST Semifinals a month ago, with Indiana coming out on top in four of their match-ups. The lopsided nature of this series at the moment in favor of Indiana makes it difficult to accurately label this a “rivalry”, but this sentiment could quickly change if ever they cross paths in a best-of-seven postseason match-up this coming April or May.

The tension between these two teams began brewing in their first meeting this season where Milwaukee’s head coach Adrian Griffin was ejected for arguing with the referees. Things escalated in their next game–the IST Semis–where Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton mimicked Damian Lillard’s signature “Dame Time” gesture to celebrate hitting the game-sealing jumper down the stretch. 

The relationship between these two teams then finally crossed into hostile territory immediately after the final buzzer of their third meeting in what is now known as the Game Ball Controversy. 


Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to their sole win of the season versus the Pacers with a new career-high of 64 points and demanded that he receive the game ball. Indiana believed otherwise though as they stated that tradition dictates that it belonged to their rookie Oscar Tshiebwe who had scored the first points of his NBA career that evening.

This set the stage for their last two encounters this season which were made even more tense as they were scheduled as a back-to-back home-and-away series. These two games were highly physical contests and it was obvious that both teams disliked one another. Indiana won the pair of games convincingly and in the process put themselves on the map as a rising dark horse in the East. Their two latest wins over Milwaukee also extended their winning streak to five which is currently the longest active one in the NBA as of this writing. 

The Pacers have gradually climbed up the standings in recent weeks and are currently fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 19-14 win-loss record. They are only a half game behind the Miami Heat for fourth place and could very well end up overtaking them by season’s end to secure home court advantage in the first round. 

The success of this team is largely driven by the emergence of Haliburton as a legitimate superstar and his play will ultimately decide this team’s ceiling. His presence has elevated this team’s offense into an elite one, yet they will have to work on their defense if they want to become legitimate contenders. A realistic outcome for them this season is a second round appearance, although it would not be a total surprise if they pull off an upset to barge into the Eastern Conference Finals.

The rest of the NBA must be wary of this run-and-gun Indiana team that not only plays fast, but also extremely hard on a nightly basis. They have arrived on the scene and are well past their rebuilding phase. What’s even more exciting is that it is clear that the best is yet to come for Haliburton and the Pacers.