- Eastern Conference finals — Pacers vs. Heat: Series Hub
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — You have to give Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel credit. He’s never changed his style. He’s confident, fearless in what he’s willing to say publicly and has the utmost confidence that his team will back him up in any fight he picks.
So when he makes what seems like a harmless statement:
“It’s exciting, but this is not about getting back at Miami. If you’re in the final four you’re competing for a championship. And they’re just the next team that’s in our way. That’s how we’re approaching it.”
… as he did late Saturday night after the Pacers clinched their date in the Eastern Conference finals against the defending champions, he knew his words would catch the attention of the Heat, and LeBron James in particular.
Verbal shots have been fired in this series and they don’t tip-off for Game 1 until Wednesday night in Miami (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT). The response was swift. James took the bait, arguing that:
“We’re not just another team. I don’t understand what he’s saying. But we’re not just another team. That’s not true. He said we’re just another team in their way. We’re a great team. If we’re just another team, you really don’t prepare for just another team. You have to prepare for us.”
The buzz over the words these men spoke reached a fever pitch Sunday and Vogel took to Pacers.com on Monday morning to issue a statement that somewhat recants his position, saying the following:
“Sorry sports world, the words ‘just another team’ never came out of my mouth,” he said. “Great respect for LBJ and the champs. Looking forward to [a] great series.”
But as we all know, the words are already out there.
Vogel’s mission for Game 1 is complete. This is the same tactic he used before the Heat and Pacers squared off in the conference semifinals last season, earning himself a $15,000 fine for calling the Heat the “biggest flopping team in the NBA.”
Using a trick utilized by some of the coaching greats of the past, Vogel has effectively drawn the Heat’s ire before any elbows are exchanged, before any hard fouls are delivered. That bodes well for us, the folks who get to watch these two teams battle for the right to represent the East in The Finals.
It should be noted, however, that in each of the last two times when the Pacers picked this fight, the Heat humbled them. They were up 2-1 in the conference semifinals last year and the Heat stormed back to win three straight games and eliminate the Pacers. And earlier this season, after the Pacers had already claimed two victories over the Heat, they faced off in what was supposed to be a showdown game March 10 in Miami between the top two teams in the East, and the Heat stroked the Pacers 105-91 behind 26 points from Mario Chalmers.
The anticipation is building for Game 1 and a series that promises to give us more than just words.
Vogel seems ready for the test.
LeBron and the Heat, too.
“We’re ready for whatever,” James told reporters Sunday. “I believe it’s going to be like last series. They’re going to try to put me on the floor, maybe. Be physical with me, maybe. I don’t know. Every team kind of does the same thing. They kind of read what everyone else talks about [and say], ‘You have to beat up the Heat to beat them.’ We’ll see what happens.”
Time to get it on!