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Fans Give Pacers A Taste of Playoff Atmosphere

by Conrad Brunner || Caught in the Web Archive

February 15, 2011

Frank Vogel's pregame message was straightforward.

"This," the coach told the players, "is your playoff experience right now."

To be sure, the Pacers' game against the Miami Heat had a postseason feel. Conseco Fieldhouse was sold out and rowdy. The opponent brought such star power the entourage was a circus unto itself.

And Vogel was right in setting that tone because the Pacers are remarkably young and thus inexperienced in the ways of the playoffs. They needed this chance to at least get a little taste and, though they wound up losing 110-103, it wasn't all that bitter.

Much like the Pacers' last meeting with the Heat in Miami, in which their second and third quarter dominance was sandwiched by first and fourth quarter frustration, thjavascript:%20submit()e players did gain something from this. They fully believe they can beat this elite opponent, should a playoff matchup come about in April. But they must also learn from the lessons of these games if they are to put that belief into action.

"We've proved we can play with them," said Tyler Hansbrough. "Now, we want to prove we can beat them."

What the Pacers have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt is their bench is their single biggest advantage against Miami. The scoring was lopsided again, 53-14 Tuesday night, bringing the season total to 137-42.

Hansbrough continued to vex Chris Bosh, who guards him as one would a hive of angry bees -- tentatively and from a distance – and racked up 16 points in 27 minutes. Paul George scored 14 and earned the second-half start to match up against Dwyane Wade, who racked up 31 in the first half but added just 10 more. A.J. Price orchestrated a remarkable comeback from a 24-point first-quarter deficit.

But the first and fourth quarters, when Miami has won these games, typically belong to the starters and the Heat's big three has proven too much to overcome. Wade (41), LeBron James (27) and Bosh (22) combined for 90 of Miami's points, including the first 21 of the fourth quarter.

"We've got to stay locked in for 48 minutes," said Price. "In Miami we had a terrible fourth quarter. Tonight, it was a terrible first quarter. Until we play 48 minutes like we did the first time we beat them (93-77 in November) it's going to be tough to hold them off."

Come April, every game will be like this. The opponent will be mighty, the fans stoked. Every possession will bear the weight of history. If this was the first step of the preparation of these young Pacers for what awaits, it wasn't a leap, but neither was it a tumble.