The conclusion has been made. The 2013-14 Indiana Pacers are a prime example of middle school children.
Can you depend on them to get their work complete in a timely manner? It depends on the day, and how much they care at the time.
Sometimes, they’ll wipe out a task, and influence tons of columns the following morning with the headline: “The Pacers Are Back” or “Why Miami Should Be Frightened.” None of it makes sense anymore, as reality always sets in with these guys, who seem to be incapable of icing a series when they truly need to.
The opportunity rested in front of them. Knocking out the over-confident Washington Wizards in five games, giving themselves a handful of days to rest before the Eastern Conference Finals, seemed ideal. Getting off to a plodding start, having to crawl back into the game before halftime, and Indiana falling on their face in the third, was the outcome the fans received in Game 5.
We were exposed to exactly why Indiana’s front court has been suffering in the Playoffs, as the rebounding variance heavily favored Washington in Game 5. If the perception around the Miami Heat was that pounding the glass was difficult, it was nothing compared to the humiliation Indiana was forced to deal with on Tuesday.
Washington, behind Marcin Gortat, out-rebounded the Pacers 62-23 in route to a 23-point victory on the road. Gortat collected 16 of those boards himself, as he may tell you he played the greatest game of his professional career.
“I was a decoy in Game 3 and Game 4,” Gortat said following the win. “(Game 5) was the time for me to perform. At some point in the second half, it was just fun to be in the game.”
As you can recall, Gortat watched most of the second half of Game 4 on the bench, as Washington’s second unit sparked a mini-run to give them a chance for a home win. Randy Wittman didn’t feel comfortable changing up his rotation at a critical time, so the “Polish Hammer” didn’t have many words or actions that swayed the outcome. On Tuesday, however, he was the best player on the floor, and that’s a problem if you’re Paul George. Not showing up when it matters the most (a potential close-out game to get a breather before the East Finals) is why George remains on the “tier two” level of my star evaluations. We may never see a performance out of George that can mirror the destruction LeBron James put on Brooklyn in Game 4, because Indiana is a collective basketball team.
The Heat try to stray away from the star-reliant type of play. The problem with that belief is Miami actually plays some of the most respected team basketball in the sport, it’s just they have a physical freak of nature that doesn’t possess human traits. James is a wrecking ball for defenses, while George can sometimes just be a sledgehammer. You tell me which one induces more damage.
In the first round series vs. Atlanta, the Pacers were able to crash the boards effectively due to Paul Millsap and Pero Antic trying to survive with outside jumpers, thus leaving David West and Paul George in the mix to collect the
hundreds of missed shots. We don’t include Roy Hibbert in that mix, as Royce White could’ve performed better in that series (the dude can’t even fly on a plane). With the Wizards, it’s a much different story. The Pacers have been severely out-hustled and defeated on the glass in this series, even with the 3-2 series lead. The two games Washington was victorious (1 & 5), take a gander at the rebounding discrepancy. -56 in the two losses is past unacceptable. It entails that the closest thing to “consistency” the Eastern Conference has is Derrick Rose injuries, and Miami representing them in The Finals.
“We didn’t show up to play, veteran David West said. “I don’t know if we just thought we were going to come in here and these guys were going to roll over or what. They just played at a different level than we did all night.”
Of the eight playoff teams remaining (since Portland just won’t fall over and die already), the Pacers rank fifth in rebounds per game, while No. 2 has been Washington. The 4.2 difference in rebounding averages between the two doesn’t sound like much, until you look at it through the lens of individual games. There’s no excuse Hibbert, West, or Frank Vogel can make for allowing 18 offensive rebounds to an opponent, and it should never happen in a league, let alone the Playoffs.
Fortunately for the Pacers, it was only the second-worst Playoff loss in franchise history, but they could care less where their apathetic performance ranked on the list of failures. Instead, they have to focus on the here and now, and what exactly can stop Gortat from further dejecting the front court.
Seriously, you allow a guy (with gifted, hard-working talent, don’t get it twisted) to have this kind of a field day after scoring just six points in Games 3 and 4 combined?
Gortat isn't the polish hammer tonight, he's the polish Shaquille O'Neal. 17 points and 11 boards at half, missing just two shots. Gor-God
— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) May 14, 2014
The odds are still in Indiana’s favor, as crazy as that may feel.
Considering only 3.7 percent of teams down 3-1 have marched back to win a best-of-seven series in NBA history, the Pacers can’t be heading into Game 6 so worried that they’re sweating bullets (pun totally intended). Fans at The Verizon Center made it one of the loudest arenas left in the postseason, but were let down miserably by two straight Wizard losses. Thursday’s Game 6 will feature a different feel, an atmosphere they haven’t felt since Gilbert Arenas took on LeBron James in an epic first round matchup.
Now, it’s a must-win situation. For both teams.
There’s not one other team more confident in themselves at home for a Game 7, but the Pacers don’t want to endure the extra grind. Miami — since we know Brooklyn’s offense in late-game situations doesn’t stand a chance — will be a task more daunting than Indiana has faced in their handful of years together. Preparation and rest are two things you can’t get enough of in sports, which is why Vogel has to prepare for Washington in Game 6, so they can rest for Miami’s physical grind and fast break style.