Let’s be honest: the Indiana Pacers should be on vacation right now. Despite being in an elimination game at home against the Heat, who were without Chris Andersen (again) and an “iffy” Ray Allen, the Pacers played horrible, stinky basketball for most of the first half. It was the type of embarrassing stuff we saw at times against the Hawks in round 1 and against the Wizards in round 2. It was the type of performance that made a part of me want the Heat to put the Pacers out of their misery.
And shockingly, most of the damage in the second quarter was done without the best player on the planet, LeBron James, on the floor. After whining about foul calls in game 4 and a $25k fine to Paul George, the Pacers certainly got the attention of the refs tonight as King James picked up 2 early fouls in the first quarter and then a charge in the second. Frustratingly, instead of capitalizing on LeBron’s absence for the final six minutes of the first half, the Pacers allowed a 7-point deficit to turn into a 9-point deficit.
I didn’t think the Pacers stood a chance from there, but LeBron promptly proceeded to pick up his fourth foul on the first Pacers possession in the third quarter. Spoelstra decided to keep him in, and he picked up and his fifth not much later when Lance Stephenson picked his pocket and the two tangled up in a scramble for the loose ball. I’m not going to debate whether the fouls were bad fouls (at least two of them were questionable), but it’s the same thing the Pacers have had to put up with in games 2 (West and Stephenson), 3 (Hill and George) and 4 (Stephenson, Hibbert and West).
And so finally, the Pacers showed some signs of life in the third, outscoring the Heat 31-15 for the quarter to turn a 9-point deficit into a 7-point lead heading into the final stanza. They would extend the lead to as much as 11, but the return of LeBron quickly changed all that. The Heat would hit three after three to get back into the game, at one point tying it at 81 with 3:50 to go. In fact, the Heat would hit 7 threes in the fourth quarter. Their five last field goals of the game were all three-pointers.
Lucky for the Pacers, Paul George came to play. Having struggled for most of the series, PG came alive at a time the team needed him the most, hitting big shot after big shot like he was back in November. PG scored 21 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter, the most any player has scored against LeBron’s Heat, ever, and the most any player has scored in the 4th quarter of an elimination game in the last 15 years. He even added 6 rebounds and 6 steals for what is probably the best playoff game he’s every played.
Still, the Heat had their chances to put this one away because the Pacers couldn’t close it out from the free throw line. As a team they were 2-5 from the line in the final 15 seconds, giving the Heat a chance to tie it with a two and to win it with a three. LeBron drove into the lane against Paul George, Hibbert came up to help. LeBron dished it into Chris Bosh in the corner, who released a three while being harassed by George Hill. He missed, and the Pacers won the game. Could have been very different.
And so the Pacers live to fight another day. It was one of those games. I’m happy they survived, but not happy with the way they did it. You would think — elimination game, at home, LeBron limited to career playoff low 7 points due to foul trouble of the likes we’ll likely never see again — and yet they barely eked out a victory with Paul George playing out of his mind.
Rationally, it’s virtually impossible contemplating a Pacers victory in game 6. The Heat are clearly the better team at this point because they have the best player in the world, and the Pacers have bounced back and forth between occasionally brilliant and regularly horrible. But anyone who says they have figured this Pacers team out is kidding themselves. The one thing Pacers fans can hold on to is the unpredictable nature of this team. Who knows, maybe they can put together the best game they’ve ever played and force game 7.
For all the attention placed on LeBron’s foul troubles and Paul George’s big night, both of which are unlikely to be duplicated in game 6, we’ve forgotten that the Pacers made only 13 of 22 free throws. We also forgot that the Heat shot a blistering 15-31 from behind the three-point line. Rashard Lewis hit 6 threes for 18 points after not scoring a single point all series and only playing in the last three. Those are also anomalies.
So there’s really no point in speculating. We know the Heat are the heavy favorites, as they should be. They have LeBron. But we also know that the Pacers can beat them if they’re on their game. All I’ll say is that if the Pacers get eliminated next game I hope they go down swinging. I can deal with it if Miami play out of their mind, but not if the Pacers simply don’t show up.