Game 5 Win Changes the Feel of the Series

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

May 29, 2014 | 1:45 a.m.

“I said that?”

LeBron James did say that. “That” was the following, which he told reporters in Miami on Tuesday after his Heat defeated the Pacers 102-90 to take a commanding three games to one lead in the Eastern Conference Finals Monday night:

“We don't want to come back (to Miami) with a Game 6. We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out.”

So after the Pacers held off the Heat to live another day – that day being Friday for that very Game 6 that James said Miami wanted to avoid – the question becomes: is the pressure now on the Heat, given that if the Pacers can win one more game against the two-time defending champions, a winner-goes-to-the-Finals contest would be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where Miami is 2-8 over the past two seasons?

“We’ll focus on Game 6 now,” James said after confirming with teammate Dwyane Wade, seated next to him at the post-game press conference podium, that he did, in fact, say “something like that.”

“We focus on the things we can control, and not the things we can’t control.”

The way James had played coming into Game 6 sure made it feel that there was little that he, personally, couldn’t control, willing Miami to victories in Games 2 through 4, dropping 32 points while grabbing 10 boards and dishing out five assists on Monday, and doing so with a demonstratively tenacious demeanor throughout.

But as much as it seemed that Miami’s disposal of the Pacers was all but a formality after what took place at American Airlines Arena in Game 4, a narrow 93-90 Indiana victory in Game 5 has given us the following scenario:

Eight quarters of basketball, or, in other metrics, 96 minutes on the hardwood, that separate the Pacers from the NBA Finals.

Can the Pacers defeat Miami twice consecutively, once on the road and once at home? Yes.

Will they? Who knows? The odds are against them.

But the tenor of this series changed at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Wednesday night, because as James spent nearly half the game on the bench in foul trouble, the opportunity to put away the pesky Pacers slipped through the Heat’s grasp. And now, the scene shifts to a venue where the Pacers have not won in this series, let alone all season, but where they jumped out to a 17-4 lead to open a Game 3 that they would ultimately squander.

Is the specter of having to come back to Indiana for a potential Game 7 cause for increased urgency to finish the job for the Heat? Not according to James.

“It’s the Eastern Conference Finals,” he said. “There should be urgency no matter what.”

The Pacers know a little something about urgency. They’ve had to play three elimination games in these playoffs, and they’ve won each one. They would like to play at least two more, Friday and Sunday, and Paul George said his team believes they can beat the odds.

“We’re going against history,” said Indiana’s savior in Game 5, scoring a game-high 37 points to keep the Pacers breathing. “We can’t feel like it can’t be done. Every player in our locker room, every trainer, every coach, everybody in this organization, has to feel like we can accomplish this. And we believe. We honestly believe we can accomplish this one.”

The Pacers are good at being the underdog. They showed that by pushing Miami to seven games last year when most thought they had no business playing the champs that tough. This season, they were heralded as the team that would finally dethrone the Heat in the East, and they faltered precipitously in the second half of the season, nearly crashing completely by being taken to seven games by the Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs.

Now, they’re underdogs again. Just the way they’d prefer it. And that could be a scary thing for the Heat, because a Pacers team that nobody outside Indiana believes in is reminiscent of the one that played Miami with a big chip on its shoulder last summer.

So as James and the Heat insist their mindset hasn’t changed for Game 6, and that the urgency level is always high, they may be right. They have, after all, survived their own set of crucibles in the Big Three era, and have come out on the other side as champions.

But it would be a mistake for anyone not to think these Pacers can do the improbable and add an incremental fraction of one percent to the 3.6 figure that represents how many teams in NBA history have overcome a 3-1 playoff series deficit.

Dismiss Indiana at your own peril, lest this squad ends up where it wanted to be all along: with a Game 7 against Miami on its own floor.

“It’s gonna be tough,” George said. “Like we say, it’s gotta be one game at a time. That’s just how we’ve gotta treat it.”

One game at a time. One down, two to go.

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