Pacers Wanted Game 7 at Home, but Demonstrate Importance of a Home Game 1

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRSports

May 18, 2014

From Day 1 of the 2013-14 season, it was about home court advantage for the Pacers, so that in the event of a Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals that contest would be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

But on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the conference finals against the Heat, Indiana – entering the game just 3-4 at home in the playoffs after going 35-6 at The Fieldhouse during the regular season – showed why it was important not only to have the potential deciding game of the series on its floor, but the opening contest as well.

“It was extremely important,” said Paul George, who led Indiana with 24 points on 7-of-13 shooting. “Especially against the two-time defending champs. This is a game we needed and we couldn’t let this one go. We had a past of dropping Game 1’s in this playoff run, and that would’ve been a huge setback against this team.”

While Dwyane Wade suggested otherwise, not having home court advantage as the Heat did in last year’s conference finals, given the way Miami has fared at Bankers Life Fieldhouse over the past couple of seasons, could make a big difference this time around.

Since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, the Heat have played eight times at The Fieldhouse, including in the postseason. They’ve won once.

“No,” Wade responded when asked whether the Heat regret at all not being able to snatch away the No. 1 seed in the East when the Pacers were struggling badly toward the end of the regular season.

“Everything happens for a reason. They played a good game tonight. They got Game 1 in their building. And we take nothing from what they were able to accomplish today. There’s so much more basketball left. These are two teams that can win in both arenas. So, not at all.”

Thing is, while Miami is 1-7 in its last eight trips to Indianapolis, the Pacers haven’t fared much better when at American Airlines Arena. In seven games (including last year’s Eastern Conference Finals) at Miami over the past two seasons, the Pacers are 1-6.

Had Miami won a couple of more games down the stretch in the regular season, it could have put Indiana in a real pinch, despite the Pacers’ stellar road record (5-1) in these playoffs.

“That’s neither here nor there,” Shane Battier said of the whole home court advantage issue. And he’s right. But as much as the Heat dismissed the Pacers’ boldly-stated goal at the outset that they would do everything in their power to claim the East’s top seed, it paid dividends Sunday.

The Pacers came out of the gate shooting well from the field, and it got the home crowd, which, along with everyone else watching, probably had no idea what to expect from their beloved team based on recent performance, excited.

Indiana led wire to wire, an incredible feat against a team that goes on such devastating runs as the Heat. The crowd was always a factor, and it fed into a Game 1 victory that reduces the magic number for a Pacers’ NBA Finals berth to three.

But as much as was accomplished in Game 1, the Pacers have a track record this postseason of not being able to sustain success.

When they were up three games to one and at home against the Wizards in the semifinal round, they were blown out in Game 5. They never led in the opening round matchup with Atlanta at all, until they finally won the series in seven games.

The question is, does this team have the killer instinct? The instinct that Miami has so perfected in the Big Three era, mercilessly putting teams away when ahead in May and June? So far this postseason, the answer is likely “no.” But as we’ve come to see time and time again, it’s different with Miami.

“That’ll be the test,” George said of Tuesday’s Game 2. “That’ll be the test. We’ve been complacent many times in series and throughout the whole year. We just can’t get complacent; we’ve gotta stay humbled off this win and come in with the same mindset that we’ve gotta get another one and let it go from there.”

George ended his comment by touching on something that could end up being the difference between the two heavyweights of the NBA’s Eastern Conference when this series is over.

“We know Miami’s gonna play well at home,” George said. “They play well on the road as well, but we like our chances being at home.”

It’s what they worked for on Tuesday nights against the Kings in January, so they could have Sunday afternoons in May like they had in Game 1. And as much as it was doubted as the Pacers stumbled through the first two rounds of this postseason, if the trends of the past two seasons hold in this matchup, their reward for ensuring a top seed could just be the second NBA Finals berth in franchise history.

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