For an entire fanbase that was born from the 1994 NBA Playoffs run of the Indiana Pacers, it was the following season that nurtured that into what turned many from my generation into lifelong Pacers fans. I was on the edge of my seat for Indiana's entire 1994 run, culminating in what was a heartbreaking series loss to a villainous New York Knicks team that played the perfect foil to Reggie Miller and the good guys making their first trip to the NBA Finals.
The 1994-95 season, I was all in with the every night results of the team, hating every loss, rejoicing every win, and getting my first taste of live basketball by attending a few games at Market Square Arena. Getting to see David Robinson and a twilight Dominique Wilkins in person holds fond memories, but no game I attended that season stacked up to my first playoff game: Game 4 vs. the hated Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With Reggie Miller's legendary 8 points in 9 seconds setting the tone for the series in Game 1, the Pacers would go on to overcome an eight point fourth quarter deficit in Game 3 to win in overtime, pushing ahead 2-1 in the series and setting up a pivotal Game 4 in Indianapolis. Arriving in Indianapolis, it was obvious the feel of the game would be unlike my previous trips to Market Square.
An excited and jovial crowd made liberal use of the phrase "New York sucks!" with fans chanting outside and the slogan painted over cars. While my father didn't allow me to join in, it was great being a part of people who felt like they shared the same love for the Pacers I did. The game itself tipped off, roaring inside of Market Square Arena, with the Pacers leading after the first quarter.
A huge swing took place in the second quarter, with everyone in the building murmuring in concern when Dale Davis exited the game with a shoulder injury as the Knicks would push ahead at the break 44-43. But for as loud as the crowd was before the game, it was nothing compared to when Indiana sans Davis exploded in the third quarter, outscoring New York 34-17 thanks to a dominating rebounding quarter with great efforts from Derrick McKey and Sam Mitchell pushing Indiana ahead 16 after three.
The Pacers pushed ahead by as many as 18 before New York trimmed the lead to seven late in the game. But each and every Indiana basket after, as the Knicks failed to hit another field goal until the game was sealed, gave more and more life to the crowd as the Pacers wrapped up a 98-84 victory to take a commanding 3-1 series lead they'd use to escape in Game 7 to defeat New York and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
The familiar chants of "New York sucks!" continued not only within the arena, but outside as we worked our way back to the car, with me soaking in a post-game atmosphere I never knew existed. While the future playoff battles against the Knicks would certainly help, grinning at the surrealism of seeing the Pacers move up 3-1 against an opponent I loathed with every ounce of my fandom, there was never a doubt I'd still live and die with the Pacers almost 20 years later.