Posted May 23 2012 10:14AM
MIAMI -- For the Pacers, it's a case of opportunity gained and lost. Or, to put it in a way that only Indianapolis can understand, they had an early lead on the racetrack and just got lapped.
Pacers were up 2-1. Pacers are down 3-2. This playoff series suddenly turned harder than Danny Granger's ankle and now, facing elimination, the Pacers are wondering where it went and if they can get it back.
Wasn't it just five days ago when this sunny and blue Florida sky was ready to drop on the Heat's collective heads? When Dwyane Wade was caught in a fog without a searchlight? When LeBron James' lungs were flatter than a supermodel? When Roy Hibbert was a dominant big man and getting plenty of touches? When Granger was woofing and David West was humming and Lance Stephenson was choking ... himself?
Well. After a 115-83 win Tuesday, this is now the Heat's series to lose. In the last six quarters they've punished the Pacers every way possible, using the full force of their two great stars and a boost from the supporting cast to overtake the Pacers and quiet the alarms. You know that stuff about the Heat being on the verge of crumbling? Oops. Never mind. Now back to your regular programming.
The Heat are on the verge of shrinking, however, if the league looks at replays of two flagrant fouls and applies some common sense. Udonis Haslem loosened some of Tyler Hansbrough's dental work on a payback foul from an earlier Hansbrough hit on Wade that drew blood. If the NBA upgrades the Haslem foul from a flagrant one to a two, he'll sit out Game 6. And Dexter Pittman's vicious elbow to Stephenson was such a blatant response to Stephenson's choke sign at LeBron that Pittman may never suit up in this postseason again. Not that anyone would notice.
"It looked like the wild, wild West out there," Granger said.
You know it's an ugly game and series when people are left in stitches and not from a comedy.
In a completely different way, the Pacers must prevent themselves from shrinking as well. Hibbert scored 19 points in Game 3, then 18 the next two games combined. Somehow, and this is hard to believe, the Pacers managed to lose sight of a guy who stands 7-foot-2. This should be simple: Toss the ball to the biggest man on the floor and let him work.
Also, West and Paul George haven't scored a meaningful basket ever since the Heat seized control of the series. And Tuesday, for the second straight game, Miami snatched the rebounding edge from a bigger Indiana team. Mario Chalmers alone had 11 in Game 5, one fewer than Hibbert.
"They've beaten us in every hustle stat, and even though we know how to stop them, we haven't in the last few days," said Darren Collison.
If that wasn't enough, now there are injury concerns for Indiana. This is a twist, because the Pacers benefitted from Dwight Howard missing the first-round series with Orlando and Chris Bosh pulling up lame halfway through Game 1 of this series. But Granger tweaked and then re-tweaked his left ankle Tuesday. How does that impact Game 6? Well, guarding LeBron on a pair of healthy wheels is hard enough.
"I'll be ready," Granger said. "The only way I won't play is if my foot falls off. It's just too important of a game for us."
Yes, it is, but until tipoff, the Pacers must be asking themselves: What happened?
Wade happened. He followed up his 30-point comeback performance in Game 4 with 28 Tuesday. Nobody is safe from Wade anymore, except for coach Erik Spoelstra.
Shane Battier happened. He hit only two 3-pointers before doubling that in Game 5. In addition, his defense on West the last two games has been impressive because Battier gives away 25 pounds of muscle.
"We have to limit their role players," said George Hill, "and keep them from becoming major players."
Haslem happened. The Heat gave away Haslem band-aids as a fan promotion in Game 5, the bandages being the symbol of grit and guts after Haslem took an elbow above his right eye that required stitches. A guy who couldn't shoot straight the last few weeks has 24 points the last two games, six more than West. LeBron happened. But you knew he would.
It's now up to the Pacers to return home and find answers. It begins with finding Hibbert, who was supposed to be a difference-maker against a Miami team without Bosh, and he was until the Pacers forgot about him.
"We couldn't get it down low to me so we went to the shooters," said Hibbert, who took as many shots (10) as Leandro Barbosa in Game 5.
West needs to use his considerable strength advantage against Battier, a natural small forward. Before leaving with a slight head injury, though, West grabbed only four rebounds Tuesday and once again played a secondary role in the offense.
Indiana is getting flogged on the boards and also wrapped up on defense after shooting 33 percent Tuesday, "which won't get it done," West said.
"They go on stretches where they outscore us a bunch, and we can't allow that to happen. We've got to be more precise in our thinking and our rotations and what we need to do. Or it'll be over with quick."
This series certainly appears to be going quickly in the opposite direction for Indiana. The wheels are beginning to loosen and they're threatening to fall off and the Pacers are looking for the pit crew, which is probably lost somewhere with Hibbert.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.
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