Game 6 is upon us, with the fate of the Indiana Pacers hanging in the balance.
The Eastern Conference Finals could be a wrap with a home win for the Miami Heat, or could be extended to a Game 7 this Sunday. Four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals is impressive, and a rare feat that only three teams have accomplished in the last 60 years. Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson’s Lakers, and Larry Bird’s Celtics accomplished it, and that’s illustrious company to be joining if you’re LeBron James.
However, the Pacers aren’t finished. Not yet. As long as Paul George is feeling like a fourth quarter champion, and Lance Stephenson is a servant blowing on the neck of a King, there’s a chance.
In today’s NBA, a playoff series escalates in excitement once a team wins on the road. Indiana is yet to do that in these East Finals, with the only road win coming by Miami in Game 2. Last season, the Pacers were the first ones able to grab a win away from home in Game 2, after being demoralized by a buzzer beater in Game 1.
A team’s season is on the line. Although, looking past this series and the playoffs as a whole, the future is also at stake for this Indiana group. Two possible outcomes in Game 6 set up various situations, only one that Indiana wants to be a part of.
If the Pacers win Game 6
We’re talking about a win-or-go-home Game 7 for both the Pacers and Heat, in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. A number of questions will arise in this series, including the ridiculousness that Lance Stephenson has gotten into James’ head, ear blowing and all.
The momentum will shift, and the unthinkable could be on hand. Miami is yet to lose three straight playoff games in their tenure with James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Indiana will have the chance to be the “little engine that could” and stop a franchise from entering dynasty mode.
Game 7 is what the Pacers hoped and dreamed for, this time in a more favorable location. In Game 5, James was hit with early foul
disaster trouble, and many are buying into the idea that home cooking could have been a cause. In reality, all superstars face a once-a-year (or so) game where they rack up a number of unfortunate calls and nearly foul out. The NBA’s officiating is a lot more respected than that of the NFL or MLB, so the talk of deliberate foul-calling should end immediately.
Getting the job completed on the road — where Indiana is 5-3 in the playoffs — would also alter hundreds of opinions on this series. The list of those that believe Miami can walk into Indianapolis and win a Game 7 is quite long, but you would have to question their ability to overcome the pride and heart Indiana would have gained. Winning two straight games vs. the defending champs would mean something, and the confidence it gives a group is insurmountable.
Game 7 would come down to getting to the foul line
(as they did 37 times in Game 1), and having their veteran rise to the occasion. That veteran is David West, who was in the building for Game 5. History of this postseason shows, he may enter the zone for Game 6 as well.
In Game 6, the West pick-and-pop will be the most crucial component of the offense. It’s how he was able to escape Atlanta with a win in the first round, and nothing has changed. In this series (five games), West has nailed 41.7 percent of his mid-range attempts. Of those that have taken at least 20 mid-range attempts in this series, West ranks second, behind only Chris Bosh (46.2 percent). Let the battle of power forwards begin. It’s Miami’s, however, that can be an executor from 3-point range.
If the Pacers lose Game 6
It wouldn’t be as embarrassing as it would if they fell short Wednesday, in Game 5. For three quarters, the Pacers flirted with elimination and nearly lost the series 4-1, getting outplayed in every game but the series opener.
Depending on how Larry Bird still views Stephenson’s antics after this series — since Lance poked the wrong polar bear at the zoo — the price tag on their starting shooting guard may drop. Stephenson is the life and energy of Indiana, and re-signing him is a must, but if the organization isn’t comfortable paying loads for a guy that has a split personality (Good Lance, Bad Lance), they may go a different route. Teams in the market may become desperate for talent, which Stephenson definitely possesses, and step into the territory of overpaying for him. Being in a contract year is always a high deal of pressure for a player, and Lance has handled it in an up and down manner. Near the All-Star break, he was making general managers’ eyes widen, then they began to shut when he hit a skid. Who knows where his value is today.
The makeup of this roster, which doesn’t include a true point guard, will raise some more eyebrows. I’m sure everyone has explored the notion that Bird will blow things up if they can’t dethrone the East’s best duo. George Hill, love him or hate him personality wise, will have more scrutiny come his way, and ideas will be entertained regarding a trade for a traditional floor general. Rajon Rondo, Ty Lawson, or someone unhappy with their current unit, will begin marking Indiana down as a potential landing spot.
More importantly for the league, a dynasty will be created. This loss would propel the Miami Heat into a greater legacy, seeing as how they’ve never came short of a Finals appearance since joining together. That’s a pool of success no matter how you look at it.
And, lets be honest, do we really believe in our brains that this inconsistent group of guys can handle the assassins from San Antonio?