After four games the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are dead even. Now the Pacers have to attempt to brush off historic performances from Lebron James and Dwyane Wade and travel to Miami for Game 5.
Along with every other sports outlet in the country, we have analyzed this series by looking at both teams offensive and defensive play calls and nitpicked every type of statistic. But maybe it’s time to take a step back. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the larger narrative.
November 19th, 2004. The infamous Malice in the Palace. Some people claim that is the day professional basketball died in Indiana. Those people were perhaps being over-dramatic. But things did change that day. An organization lost its respectability. “Basketball Paradise” lost its context in regard to the Pacers and they turned into just another small market team.
July 8th, 2010. The Decision. Some people claim that this was the day that professional basketball died everywhere. Those people were definitely being over-dramatic. I think the Dallas Mavericks proved that last year. But Lebron James changed the game. Whether it’s fair or unfair, the Miami Heat became the bad guys. I’m assuming that you remember this. It’s no that coincidence that it strongly resembles this. The Heat are probably the most covered team in sports of the past twenty years. They also might be the most hated.
For a few brief moments in June when Dirk Nowitzki hoisted that trophy over his head, it felt like the Heat experiment was a failure. But like most box office movies where the bad guy loses in the end, he will come back stronger in the sequel. And coming into this NBA season nearly every pundit predicted that the Miami Heat would walk away champions.
On July 8th, 201o, the Miami Heat found the magic seeds to get a championship. Throw them in the ground and watch them grow instantly. Keep hydrated with an Udonis Haslem or two, maybe a Mario Chalmers, and make sure you hire an Erik Spoelstra to watch over them, and you will get your desired results in 12 to 24 months.
Meanwhile, Larry Bird had been staring at what felt like a demolition site, plowed over by a flying drink and whatever thoughts fly around in the mind of the man known in those days as Ron Artest. Larry Legend went with the only option in front of him: he started rebuilding, brick by brick, draft pick by draft pick. Grab a Danny Granger for a foundation, draft a Roy Hibbert for support. Acquire a Darren Collison or George Hill to tie the place together. Maybe even add a Barbosa to provide a little flair. And sure enough it started to look right.
The Indiana Pacers have an excellent team. But hardly anyone knows it. They get approximately zero national coverage. The Miami Heat, on the other hand, can’t make a ham sandwich without breaking national news.
And unfortunately we have to talk about the attendance. The Miami Heat have sold out a fair amount of games. But according to my (perhaps biased) eyes, they are sold out by a lot of late arrivals and early departures. Indiana, though, had the second-worst attendance in the NBA this season. While that has improved mightily for the playoffs — which have feature commendable raucous sold-out crowds at The Fieldhouse — it certainly merits a little bit of criticism. But perhaps, the Indiana faithful were just a little gun-shy the past couple years. It’s nice to have a team full of talented, high-character guys, but would it amount to much? Danny Granger isn’t Reggie Miller so what’s the point? It seems like the team has great chemistry, but are they tough enough to exceed expectations?
Maybe because of November 19th, 2004 — and all the police blotter coverage that followed — the fans were hurt. Hurt in the most unique way. Maybe they just were in need of a little motivation. Maybe they needed a push. Maybe they needed a reminder that these are not the Pacers of the 90s, but they are also not the Pacers of the mid-2000s. They are simply the 2012 Pacers.
If anything could assure everyone in Pacer Nation of that thought it would be a Game 6 in Indiana with a chance at eliminating the Heat. If the Pacers can win Game 5 in Miami, Bankers Life Fieldhouse will have an air to it for Game 6 that can’t be described with words — only through goosebumps.
The Pacers will not be playing the Knicks. John Starks won’t be in attendance. Eight points will not be scored in nine seconds. But the Miami Heat will be there. One of the most talented athletes in the history of sports will be there. Whether you hate Lebron James or not, he will be spectacular. And Dwyane Wade will be relentless.
And it’s only fitting that the smug smirk of Pat Riley will likely be somewhere in attendance. One can only hope that the game is on TNT and Reggie Miller is calling it, just to even out the karma. Can anyone else picture Roy Hibbert playing the toughest game of his life? Is anyone else dying to see Lebron James shoot two fourth-quarter free throws for the tie in front of 18,000 screaming Pacer fans? Is anyone else anxious to see if there is a Pacer player willing and able to step up and put the final dagger into the
bad guys Heat?
I know I’m looking ahead. But I can’t help it. I know that there is a game tonight. And there are still plenty of stats and offensive schemes to analyze. But right now I can’t seem to focus on PER or true shooting percentages; I’m too focused on the possibility of great basketball drama.
If basketball is not already completely back in Indiana then it will be if the Pacers can win tonight. If you’re a basketball fan and you “miss the old days” (and I know you do) then cancel all plans that would prevent you from watching Game 6 on Thursday.
Because win or lose, it is going to be special.