Miami • In the 2011 NBA Finals, LeBron James spent too much time for his liking talking about his purported rivalry with an easily excitable guard named Stevenson.
There’s a new rival now.
Oklahoma City 106, San Antonio 97
Spurs lead series 2-1
Indiana at Miami, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Heat lead series 2-1
His name sounds the same. Different spelling, though.
Back then, it was Dallas’ DeShawn Stevenson. In these Eastern Conference finals, it’s Indiana’s Lance Stephenson in the foil role. James sees the obvious parallels but isn’t interested in stoking the fires — especially with the Heat leading the Pacers 2-1 heading into Monday night’s Game 4, one that could allow Miami to put a stranglehold on the series.
"Winning the game is more important," James said. "I understand what the main goal is."
Still, it seems fair to say that Stephenson and James got each other going often in Game 3. When the Pacers finished practice Sunday, Stephenson talked about how he enjoys ruffling the four-time MVP’s feathers.
"To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness," Stephenson said. "He never used to say anything to me. I always used to be the one who said, ‘I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now he’s trying to do it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right because I’m getting under his skin, but I’ve definitely got to keep stepping up to the plate and be more aggressive when he does that."
The way Stephenson sees it, it’s a little-brother vs. big-brother sort of scenario.
That’s precisely the analogy Pacers coach Frank Vogel broke out on Sunday when talking to his team. Indiana was ousted by Miami in the 2012 playoffs, again in the 2013 playoffs, and now needs to beat the Heat in three of the next four games to avoid that same fate this year.
"The little brother spends his whole life getting beat up by the big brother, getting beaten in sports, sporting events, 1-on-1 basketball and what-not," Vogel said. "All those years of getting beat up builds him up to the point where he ultimately takes on the big brother."
So in Game 4, the Pacers will take on the big brother Heat again — with the knowledge that a 3-1 deficit could be especially dire given how good the Heat have proven to be when they get a close-out opportunity.
No, Monday isn’t a must-win for Indiana.
But it probably ranks fairly close to that.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.