How Will the Heat Respond?
by Matt Keller
May 17, 2012
The Eastern Conference Semifinals are beginning to feel like a 12-round heavyweight fight with the strongly-favored Miami Heat taking all they can handle from a determined Indiana Pacers squad. The two teams will once again answer the bell for Game 4 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN). Indiana leads the series 2-1 after blowing out the Heat 94-75 in Game 3. With the deep bench of the Pacers against Dwayne Wade and NBA MVP LeBron James, it truly is anyone’s series.
A sellout crowd all dressed in Pacers gold t-shirts saw Indiana gut out a hard-earned victory Thursday night in Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. After ending the first half even at 43, Danny Granger’s hot shooting from behind the arc, a strong inside presence of David West and Roy Hibbert, and gritty team defense were keys to the 19-point victory. These factors are sure to be called upon Sunday as well.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert kept things in perspective following Thursday’s game, saying, "First of all, we’re very appreciative that we’re in this position. We worked hard together, tirelessly as a team to get to this part of the year. To have the fans come out and support us and win the way we did, in the fashion that we did, I think is great for us and great for Indiana, but we’ve got a lot more work to do. We’re not too high on this game right here. We know how capable the Miami Heat are and D(wyane) Wade isn’t going to have those type of nights (5 points on 2-13 shooting) like he did, so we’ve still got a lot of work to do."
Pacers coach Frank Vogel agreed and gave credit to the crowd as well, "We’re happy with the win, but we understand we have a lot of work to do. We’re not going to get overjoyed for getting this victory. I’m very proud of our guys for a great effort. In any series, the momentum shifts dramatically in every single game. As much as you want to enjoy the victory, you can’t enjoy the victory in the playoffs. You have to get ready for the next game. And understand it’s a different series if we don’t get game 4. We definitely feel like we can win this series. This was the best building I’ve ever been in in basketball. The best crowd I’ve ever witnessed. I’m glad to see all that mustard."
Erik Spoelstra, head coach of the Miami Heat was not without concern, however. "We put ourselves in position to do something on the road," he said. "but we came out very flat and inefficient in the third quarter. We had open looks and we couldn’t knock them down. We struggled also to get some good looks and had some turnovers…it was a good old-fashioned butt kicking from there. We’ll just have to gather ourselves. Our guys understand that. We have a lot of veteran guys and they have to be able to manage all of your emotions that go on during the playoffs where everything is heightened and when you have a game like this, everything can change in the next two days with a win on Sunday, and we have a lot of veteran guys who understand that."
The Pacers will again enjoy home floor advantage for Game 4 before the series returns to American Airlines Arena in Miami for Game 5 next Tuesday, May 22. Game 6, if necessary, will be Thursday, May 24 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with a possible deciding Game 7 down in Miami on Saturday, May 26 to determine who will advance to the Eastern Conference Finals versus either the Boston Celtics or the Philadelphia 76ers.