There’s no other way to end this season. The Indiana Pacers did it to themselves, and continue to throw this Eastern Conference Finals down the toilet.
Falling down 3-1 in the series to the Miami Heat, Frank Vogel and the Pacers can begin marking their calendar for summer vacation. It’s been 14 years since they’ve played the game in mid-June, and nothing will be different in 2014. Putting the series in perspective, it doesn’t seem too blasphemous for Indiana to give themselves a chance in a Game 7, at home.
Defeating Miami — the most superstar driven team left in the postseason — three straight times is as close to impossible as you’ll get in the sport.
However, stay with me.
Even with the momentum the Heat stole by winning Games 2, 3, and 4, there are still people that believe Indiana can show a resurgence in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The series will return to Indianapolis on Wednesday for Game 5, and it’s a whole new game. Take care of business in front of your fans, and give yourself another crack on the road. Before this series, Indiana was 5-1 on the road in the playoffs, only dropping Game 3 at Atlanta in the first round.
Last May, the Pacers were able to get one game in American Airlines Arena, winning Game 2 and tying the series after a heartbreaking Game 1 loss. This year, that’s all they need. Knowing that they’ve done it before, if they can compile any heart and teamwork to get this series back to Miami for a Game 6, there’s one more crack at that goal; getting a road win they’re capable of.
Don’t get it twisted, you’d have to be mentally ill to believe Indiana will win the Eastern Conference crown, given their inability to defend without fouling in Game 4, and the lack of anyone named LeBron James on their roster.
Lance Stephenson got into James’ head in Games 3 and 4, causing a nightmare for the two-time defending champion.
Wait ….. what?
32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists on 13-of-21 field goals sounds as if the only thing in his head was the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“I have no regrets,” Stephenson said regarding his comments after Game 3.
This series, more than last year, has come down to James realizing one thing.
The Pacers have nothing remotely close to a superstar talent, and Miami is approaching this series the same way Indiana approached the first two rounds. Frank Vogel knew Atlanta and Washington posed matchup problems at the center and point guard positions. However, Indiana was aware the rest of the Hawks’ and Wizards’ rosters, from top to bottom, may not have been as talented as their own. They were able to overwhelm the opposition with talent, because they possessed the players to do so.
Miami is giving Indiana their own medicine.
The Pacers used to have their own version of Miami’s Ray Allen, but he retired in 2005. They’ve never had a superstar take them to an NBA Finals and average 34.7 points on 47 percent shooting, and Dwyane Wade has done that for Miami (2006). They’ve yet to have a physical specimen with James’ skill level, and they’ll never own that.
Paul George, their $90 million guy, is what they’ll have to model their future around. When you flash back to the production George gave this defensive-minded team from November through January, that seems attractive. That’s three months out of a year, one that takes a consistent six-month effort to complete the ultimate goal. It’s three consecutive seasons the same team will bitterly end their season, but the first that’s utterly failed to meet expectations.
In 2012, they weren’t supposed to take Miami to seven — or six — games. Danny Granger was on the way down, with George on the way up. Stephenson was unheard of at the time, and David West was still adapting to the new look and style in Indianapolis.
In 2013 — once again a three seed — it was supposed to be over before the two even met. Unable to get a Game 7 on their home court, the Pacers didn’t have the self confidence to advance, and were still mentally weak.
Now, it’s the same story, with different chapters.
Indiana has had the the greatest expectations of any team outside of Oklahoma City, who nearly everyone thought would be a lock for another Finals trip with their gunning point guard back in the lineup. The Pacers were expected to take the regular season seriously …. and they did. It didn’t translate into anything positive in these Conference Finals, and the number one seed was worthless for the only series they cared about.
David West was found in the South Beach hallways after Game 4, pacing. In nervousness? Maybe. In frustration? More likely. West has been one of the more underrated pieces of the 2003 Draft. He entered the league with James, Wade, and Bosh, and has had three years to get over the hump. With Chris Paul, the strength of the Western Conference became aggravating and, in reality, impossible to overcome with New Orleans. In Indiana, there has only been one threatening team. Ironically, that team has probably been stronger than any team that ousted him with the Hornets.
The veteran deserves a better effort from his teammate center (Roy Hibbert), who posted his sixth scoreless game in the last 21 contests. Do you think Dwight Howard would play 21 games and come up empty on the statsheet 26 percent of the time?
Changes have to come. Whether many appreciate him or not, Coach Vogel could be on his way out. Guys have completely bought in to his defensive principles and viewpoints, but this team’s only hope of reloading for the future is to not play like they’re a middle school squad on offense. 33 turnovers in two games that meant the most in the season, cannot happen. They don’t have an identity — or a player for that matter — that can take control when the offense stales nine times out of ten. Miami has two, and that’s why they’ll be in the Finals for the fourth straight June.
This Indiana bunch has to grow up, and develop urgency. If they enter Game 5, or even next season with the same type of roster makeup and offensive fragility, don’t put them in the same sentence as the team aiming for a 3-peat.