Posted May 16 2012 8:32PM - Updated May 17 2012 12:52AM
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dwyane Wade didn't like what he felt was some needless celebrating on the Miami Heat's court by the visitors Tuesday night, after the Indiana Pacers' 78-75 victory in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Yeah, well, Wade needed to take a number, because David West already had beaten him to the umbrage. The Pacers power forward was exhorting and waving at some exuberant teammates, trying to herd them off the floor while reminding them it was just one game.
One of the teams in this series toted up its potential NBA championships before ever playing a game together, complete with smoke machine and light show. The other would prefer to win not one, not two but three more games in this series in complete stealth mode. Win, advance and hope no one notices until you're already gone.
"[A single victory in Miami] wasn't our goal," West said again Wednesday after Indiana's session on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse practice court. "Our goal was not to just come in [to the playoffs] and try to put up a 'good fight' or whatever. We're trying to win the series. We're competing to win the series. Winning one game was not what we set out to do.
"Obviously you get little excited when you win a tough game, a close game like that. But there's just no room for overreaction. ...We're not going to get too excited or overreact to where we are. We made a lot of mistakes [in Game 2]. There are a lot of things we can improve upon."
Said coach Frank Vogel of his players: "They understand the threat this [Miami] team presents. When you have two guys who can score at the level they can... Good role players who will burn you if you let them. And a transition attack that really is second to none. ... We know this is a team we can beat. But that doesn't mean anything. What you do on the court is what is going to get us to win Game 3 or Game 4 and advance."
The Pacers intend to ignore some reality, then, that already has grabbed the NBA and its fans by the lapels -- or if you subscribe to certain superstar "choke" theories, by the throat:
• By firing back from a nine-point hole and beating the Heat -- while shooting 37.8 percent with 20 turnovers, come to think of it -- Indiana grabbed home-court advantage. They do not have to win again in Miami. In fact, by winning only their games at the Fieldhouse through this round and the next, the Pacers can get themselves to The Finals for the first time since 2000 and only the second time in their history. West wouldn't appreciate that sort of thinking, of course.
• They are catching the Heat without Chris Bosh after catching Orlando in the first round without Dwight Howard, a two-fer of outrageous fortune that might equal Philadelphia facing a Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls team. The abdominal injury to Miami's All-Star big man has stalled his team's halfcourt offense, has pushed James into minutes at power forward and enabled three Pacers -- West, Roy Hibbert and Paul George -- to each grab 10 or more rebounds. Bosh is receiving extensive treatment but remains a long shot to return for this series.
• Should Indiana win Game 3, it would put a little history on its side. Since "The Decision" created this current star-laden approach, Miami has completed five postseason series. Four of them, it won 4-1. The only time it lost more than one game in a best-of-seven series, it got bounced by Dallas in last year's Finals.
Surely it must be nice to have such chips stacked up on their side of the table, right?
"We can't take any of those things as our advantage," backup swingman Dahntay Jones said. "Because last round, we lost homecourt advantage [to the Magic] in one game. So we know how important it is to take each game in itself."
That's why Jones was out there Tuesday near West, trying to settle down the other Pacers lest they rankle the opposition. Remember how cranky Rose got back in January after Indiana whooped a little too much in the United Center corridor after beating the Bulls in Chicago? Indiana didn't much care that Wade took offense to some initial reaction after the final horn but it didn't want any sense of satisfaction or achievement to last more than a few seconds.
"We don't leap forward into the future or look past one game," said Jones, a nine-year NBA veteran for four different teams. "That's been all season. We've been good when we've took each game in itself and executed our game plan. ... All the celebration is not necessary. We won a game, yeah, we should be excited, but our focus should be on the next game now. It's over."
Specifically, the Pacers want their focus on the next game and any pressure squarely on the Heat. If that means James for missing two free throws with 54.3 seconds left, for not demanding the ball and attacking on the Heat's next-to-last possession (Wade missed an awkward right-handed lunge from the left side of the rim), that's fine with Indiana.
If it's a burning spotlight now on Miami's role players -- eight guys who combined for about 160 minutes but only 23 points, fewer than either Wade (24) or James (28) -- so be it, the Pacers say. If it is coach Erik Spoelstra's disinterest in calling post-ups by James or his ability to get resourceful without a third All-Star throw into the game, Indiana wants to be cool with that, too.
The Pacers have seen this in action so far, before and since the start of the playoffs: When Miami wins, the storylines are all about what the Heat did. When Miami loses, those plot lines are all about what the Heat didn't do.
Not too much in mainstream conversation trickles over to the other guys. For the Pacers, they're content to be the other guys until they're the only guys.
"I did notice that," Vogel said, chuckling. "But we've been under the radar all year and we've been fine with that. This team is not about trying to get attention or respect. It's about trying to win the championship.
"A lot of these guys think they have as good a chance of doing that as they've ever had. They understand carpe diem, that the future's unforeseen, that whether you're a second-year player or a ninth-year player, you don't know what it holds."
That's no small thing in a league where a lot of guys care more about per-diem.
Indiana has a deeper roster than Miami. It has a 7-foot-2 center, Roy Hibbert, who played in the All-Star Game and would have been a load even with Bosh around. It has several players who haven't yet maxed out their performances in this series. And it has the ability, or so the Pacers believe, to walk that fine line between the confidence needed to beat the NBA's marquee squad and the diligence not to look up until it has hammered at the chisel enough times to -- finally, with that fourth victory -- split the stone.
"I think everybody as an individual has experienced some success at some point in their careers," West said. "You just have to reflect on that and think how you handled it in that moment. Understand that this is a similar moment. When you've got a goal in sight, it's good to take steps toward that goal but ultimately, you want to celebrate when you achieve what you hit."
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