One year ago, the Pacers were in this exact same position. They were the lower-seeded team, and they stole a game, and home-court advantage, by winning on their opponent’s floor. But they were not able to turn that advantage to take the series.
Instead, in Game 4, in Indiana, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade took over, combining to hang 70 points on the Pacers as they took the game — and soon the series.
Now, in the second round of the playoffs, just like last season against the Chris Bosh-less Miami Heat, the Pacers have a 2-1 lead. They are coming off a big Game 3 win, and they are in control of the series, with Game 4 slated for Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
Will Game 4 be a repeat of last year or a sign of progress?
“Our next step for the growth of this franchise is our ability to maintain an edge after a playoff win,” said coach Frank Vogel after practice today. “We struggled a little bit with that in the Atlanta series. We’ve got a 2-1 lead, but we can’t get comfortable at all. This is a pivotal game, and we’ve got to come out hungrier than they are.”
He says that the next step is coming into Game 4 and getting a W. That will show a continuation of the growth that this team has shown since playing the Bulls tough in a five-game series loss in the first round in 2011. Last year, they took one step further by making the second round and putting a scare into Miami.
This year, it’s Eastern Conference Finals or bust.
David West thinks this year’s team is more experiences than the one that coughed up the 2-1 lead last year. “I think we’re a different team than we were last year,” said West. “For the most part, it’s about us. How we come out, what kind of focus we have. We can’t exhale, feeling like we’ve accomplished anything. Our mission is to protect our home court, and we haven’t done that. We’ve got to win one more game.”
Paul George, the team’s lone All-Star this season, believes that the key to maintaining that edge is to not have the mind set of a team that is ahead. He thinks they need to play Game 4 like they’re down 2-1.
Just like he expects the Knicks will.
“We should approach this game the same way they’re going to approach it: that it’s a must win,” said George. “We’ve gotta get this game.”
He believes that having gone through the Miami series should help everyone on the roster who was around last season to be better prepared this time around.
“We should know better now, being in that series and having the upper hand on the higher seed,” said George. “Just how much it takes and how much focus the other team is going to [have]. We’ve got to match that. We’ve got to match that same urgency that they’re going to come out and play with.”
West has the most NBA — and playoff — experience of anyone on the team. He is taking no solace in the 2-1 lead. He knows that a good team, especially one featuring Carmelo Anthony, can come out and erase this series lead in a hurry.
“A series can change in one game,” said West.
Yes it can.
In Game 3, for example, the series changed. The Pacers jumped out to a commanding lead.
But like Miami did last year, the Knicks can easily take that momentum back.
We can talk about all the Xs and Os in the world. But more than anything, the Pacers believe they have the talent and the game plan to beat the Knicks in Game 4. Now, all that’s left is the hard part: Coming out and getting it done.
They failed last year.
They think they have evolved, grown, matured, improved since then.
What transpires on Tuesday in The Fieldhouse will tell us whether that is true.