What do you do when everything you have worked for over the past two seasons is on the verge of going up in flames? Blame the referees? Blame the coaches? Blame the NBA? If you’re the Indiana Pacers apparently you do all of this and then more.
The Pacers have spent the past two years figuring out how to beat the Miami Heat in the postseason. They thought they had it all figured out last year. They knew their excellent defence, combined with the rim protecting ability of the 7’2” Roy Hibbert, would cause the Miami Heat problems.
They were right; it did cause the Heat problems.
It took the Heat seven games and everything they had in their locker to beat the Pacers last year. The Indiana Pacers knew they had the blueprint to beating this Miami Heat team in the playoffs. They just needed one extra wrinkle to make it count. This offseason they found the answer….home court advantage.
GAME 4 HIGHLIGHTS – Indiana Pacers 90 – 102 Miami Heat:
The Pacers started the 2013/2014 regular season at a phenomenal pace. Paul George was getting lots of MVP talk. Lance Stephenson was being widely considered as an All-Star and the general consensus around the association was that this Pacers team was the real deal. Fast forward to March when the wheels started to fall off and the Pacer train derailed at an incredible pace.
Indiana lost 5 games total from October – January. They inexplicably lost 10 games in March alone. They limped into the playoffs, finishing the season on a 10-13 run. Somehow they managed to hold on to the all-important number 1 seed, and home court advantage throughout the playoffs, in the (weak) East.
In the first round of the playoffs the Pacers stumbled past the Atlanta Hawks in 7 games. It appeared the Pacers had found their winning touch against an impressive Washington Wizard team ousting them in 6 games. These two wins brought them back to where they had played so hard all year for. The Pacers had achieved their goal, and Eastern Finals match-up with the Miami Heat where the Pacers had the advantage of home court. 4 of the potential 7 games would take place in their building, Bankers Life Fieldhouse. This was their moment…until it wasn’t.
Game one went according to plan with the Pacers totally out playing Miami and coming away with a convincing 107-96 victory. It seemed Frank Vogel and his team had the perfect game plan again in game two. The Pacers were controlling the pace of the game, and playing Indiana basketball. They were playing tough defence and executing just enough in their half-court offence to hold the advantage over Miami with six minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Finally, after two long, hard years of working to beat this team, it appeared they may finally have broken through. Then it all went wrong. The Pacers know face a 3-1 deficit heading back to Indiana. This brings up the question, what do you do when everything you have worked for over the past two years is on the verge of going up in flames?
Firstly Indiana (and millions of NBA fans across the globe who dislike the Heat) blames the officiating crew. More accurately, Paul George blames the officiating crew. In Game 4 the Heat shot twice as many free throws (34) than Indiana (17). This stat may lead you to believe there is some sort of association wide conspiracy to get the Heat back to the finals. In reality the Heat outplayed the Pacers, they were more aggressive and scored the ball better. What do you do next?
If you are Roy Hibbert you blame the coaching staff and the game plan. When asked about his contribution of 0 points and 5 rebounds in Game 4 Hibbert pointed the finger at head coach Frank Vogel. Is it fair to place blame on a head coach who has brought his team to two Eastern Conference finals in a row? On top of that Vogel led his team to number one seed in the East with a 56-26 record. Is Frank Vogel responsible?
During this series Miami’s starters do look fresher than their Indiana counterparts. Vogel has often been criticised for relying too much on his starting five and not using his role players enough during the regular season. Look how well Gregg Popovich has deployed his role players in San Antonio this season, saving his starters’ energy for the post season. Miami placed restrictions on Dwyane Wade’s playing time throughout the season and they are reaping the rewards with a fresh D-Wade carving up Indiana in the paint this series.
Lance Stephenson, for one, has looked like somebody who is running on empty in the final seven minutes of each of the past three games. Paul George looks like a player who is feeling the effects of guarding the best player on the planet in LeBron James. Maybe Vogel should take some responsibility for overworking his key players during the regular season.
In his defence Vogel recognised how important it was to win the number one seed, and home court advantage, over Miami this season. He felt that using his starters was the best course of action to achieve this, and who can argue with the regular season results?
Maybe Indiana needs to look at the other side of the court. They are facing the two-time defending champions. This version of the Miami Heat have only lost one playoff series together, the 2011 finals against Dallas. The Pacers are facing a player in LeBron James who will be considered one of the greatest two players to have graced the NBA when he retires. Add a healthy Wade, a confident again Chris Bosh and role players including the greatest three-point shooter of all time in Ray Allen to the mix and maybe the Indiana Pacers shouldn’t blame the refs, or the NBA( conspiracy theorists believe that the NBA want Miami in the finals to generate TV viewers, sponsorship and revenue), or their coaches.
Sometimes in sport you just have to accept that your opponents are better than you are. It looks like the Indiana Pacers will have to accept that reality again this year, and spend another off-season trying to figure out how to beat this Miami Heat team.
Eoin Purcell, Pundit Arena.