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May 23, 2012
Their toughness questioned by the big boss, their bodies under assault from a suddenly thuggish opponent, the challenge facing the Pacers is obvious but no less daunting.
With one home game remaining against the Heat, their season is on the line.
Down 3-2 after a 115-83 drubbing in Miami Tuesday night that led frustrated team President Larry Bird to call the team's performance "soft," the Pacers face elimination in Game 6 Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Not only must they attempt to derail a Miami team building momentum like a freight train, the Pacers may well have to do it without their leading scorer.
Danny Granger missed most of the second half after rolling his left ankle on LeBron James' foot late in the first half Tuesday. He returned to play briefly in the third period but aggravated the injury trying to take a foul on a James drive.
He most certainly will try to play Thursday, but just how effective he can be -- particularly when matched up with a force of nature such as James -- is the bigger issue.
"My foot would have to fall off for me to not at least try to play," Granger said. "This is too important. It's the playoffs. I'll just take a bunch of pain medication and go out and lay it on the line."
Granger has been the team's only true outside threat in the series, making 10 of his last 19 attempts from the 3-point line (.526) in the last three games. The rest of the team has combined to make 11 of 38 (.289) in that span.
If he is hobbled it could force a number of adjustments. The least disrupting to the rotation would be to move Dahntay Jones into the first unit rotation, which could mean changing Paul George's defensive matchup from Dwyane Wade to LeBron James. Leandro Barbosa could pick up additional minutes off the bench.
Though both Jones and Barbosa are solid veterans, neither has been particularly effective. Jones is 4 of 18 (.222) from the field in the playoffs. Barbosa is shooting 32.6 percent against the Heat and has missed all eight of his 3-point attempts.
"All year long, we preached about being together," George said. "We just need the next guy to step in and take on that next role. Danny has been our leader, our scorer, and he provides a lot. When he went down, we weren’t really ready for that.
"We've got to adjust to it, work on some things and get better. We played some different rotations. It caused guys to play different roles. We definitely weren’t prepared for Danny to go down. He did, and we have to be ready for that."
Though David West did not finish the game after sustaining a sprained left knee, he reported no issues after the game and said he would be ready to go for Game 6.
"I'm fine," West said. "I have a day to recoup. I'll be ready. I think Danny will be all right. I know he's rolled his ankle a couple of times. It's part of the game. We should be all right."
Miami also could be shorthanded, albeit in less critical areas. Both Udonis Haslem and Dexter Pittman face possible fines and suspensions for violent flagrant fouls committed Tuesday.
After Tyler Hansbrough was given a flagrant for swiping Wade in the face on a follow-through, Haslem clubbed the Pacers forward in the neck.
In the closing seconds of the game, Pittman threw a vicious flying elbow into the throat of Lance Stephenson, and then turned his head and winked at the Miami bench. Officials originally ruled both Miami assaults as type one flagrant fouls but the NBA will review all of the incidents and could increase the penalties.
Granger said it was like the "wild, wild West" on the court.
"It's a physical series," Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra said. "No one wants to make it into anything more than that. We talk about it all the time. You hear every one of our huddles, you hear us pregame, you hear us at practice. We have to beat them at the game of basketball. Anything that's over the line, we don't want any of that but we have to play physical, we have to play with force. They're doing the same thing, so we'll just move on to the next game.
"I know it's been a physical series. I know both sides, even though there's been some chippiness, nobody wants to do anything but play the game. It's intense. It's passionate but nobody's going over the line."
Over the line or on the line, Indiana's season boils down to Game 6.
"We can recover," Granger said. "You don't get two wins for a blowout, you know? In Indiana we beat them by 20 points one game. This game was tough. I go down, David West goes down, it was tough for us. But it's just one win and they're on their homecourt. They're supposed to win this game.
"We've got to go back to Indiana and take care of our business."