Right where the Pacers wanted to be, however it was they got there

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers oust Wizards to advance to conference finals

WASHINGTON – The who, the what, the where, the when – all of that stuff is set, the boxes checked, the blanks filled in, no different on paper than how the Indiana Pacers would have written it back in October:

Miami Heat. Eastern Conference finals. Game 1 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Sunday afternoon.

The how of what the Indiana Pacers did – earning a best-of-seven clash with the Heat for the third straight postseason, the teams’ second in a row with a trip to The Finals at stake – has been the big unexpected, the big uneasy.

Whether that makes them less dangerous or more dangerous when they face the two-time NBA defending champions, well, we’ll find out soon enough.

The Pacers’ locker room was split on the impact of their two playoff series so far, in the hour or so after their 93-80 victory over the Washington Wizards Thursday night at the Verizon Center. For some, this always will be a bottom-line business and the scoreboard told the tale, Indiana taking the East semifinals series 4-2 over a feisty team on the rise.

For others, the way it wrapped up – the Pacers losing a 16-point lead, falling behind by one, 74-73, with 8:35 to go, on the road – was sufficiently humbling, reminding them, even scaring them, into some perspective and reflection.

To be clear, none of them said anything about feeling less dangerous. But several brushed off the tortuous path they’ve taken to get “back” to this point, while others realized their struggles over the past month or two had both taken a toll and maybe steeled them for more.

Coach Frank Vogel and point guard George Hill were planted firmly in the land of denial. “Everything is behind us,” Vogel said. “Like we said when we started the playoffs, 33-7 [the Pacers’ first-half record] means nothing. How we struggled down the stretch, and took a lot of criticism, that means nothing. That’s behind us and this is where we wanted to be. At the conference finals and a chance to move on.”

Said Hill, asked about people’s perception of the Pacers lately: “People as in, like, you guys? We don’t care about you guys like that. We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for this team in this locker room. Don’t worry about what people are saying about us. Out of all that, we still won [64 games regular and postseason] this year. You can say what you want to, this is a good basketball team.”

Fair enough. But the Pacers got to good by starting out great, then slipping, followed by churning, introspection, vulnerability, bravado, turmoil, resolve, questioning, sniping and redemption. They got well time and again, only to get sick again. The lowly Atlanta Hawks took them to seven games, and the precocious Wizards embarrassed them in Game 5 and rattled them repeatedly. Indiana, the team that so treasured winning home-court advantage through the conference bracket, dropped the openers of both series, got booed at home and went 3-4 at BLFH against the Hawks and Wizards.

So sure, if you go simply by a snapshot, the Pacers are right where they wanted to be. But if you open your assessment to a slideshow, you might land where veteran Washington big man Drew Gooden did Thursday night.

“The Pacers are a team where it’s a roller-coaster ride with them,” Gooden said. “They’re playing elite basketball in spurts. And they’re playing average basketball in spurts.”

It all was on display in Game 6. Humiliated on the boards, mocked for their blown opportunity to close out at home Tuesday, the Pacers were more assertive, crisper in their intentions and led all night by one proud war horse named David West.


VIDEO: David West talks after the Pacers’ Game 6 win in Washington

As he had in Game 6 in Atlanta – saving their butts with 24 points while dragging his teammates home for a Game 7 – West basically refused to lose. That cliché about “imposing one’s will” on a game? That’s what West did, in word and in deed.

“I told the guys, we took this game piece by piece,” West said. “Every two minutes, try to reiterate our principles, trying to communicate through their runs and their adjustments, their plays. We knew they’d make a run – they took that lead – but I thought we maintained our composure.”

Indiana had led by 16 and, at halftime, by 12. By the start of the fourth, with the Wizards finally putting their pace into the game, the gap was eight. And when Bradley Beal ripped a rebound out of Pacers center Roy Hibbert‘s hands and raced down to hit a 3-pointer, Washington’s 19-4 run across the quarter break was complete and Indiana’s lead was gone.

Thirty-three second later, it was back to stay. West hit a step-back 19-footer that rattled in, essentially what he’d been doing all night, and his tenacity washed over the Wizards.

“Reactions of the Wizards, you could tell that that shot hurt ‘em,” said Paul George, who struggled/deferred offensively and focused on chasing Beal around. “That was a tough blow for ‘em. They couldn’t get over that shot.”

Wizards coach Randy Wittman couldn’t get over how many times West shot – he was 13-for-26 – and with good reason: That’s the most field-goal attempts West ever has taken in four years with Indiana, the most since he put up 30 for New Orleans in December 2009.

“I just wanted to be aggressive,” West said. “I just wasn’t going to leave anything in the clip, y’know? I felt like I had to get beyond what I usually do. Most of the time I’m out there trying to facilitate and find guys. After I hit my first couple, I saw the way they was guarding, particularly up top. I just wanted, every time the ball touched my hands, to try to be aggressive and make something happen for us.

“My message to [teammates] was, ‘Just come to me.’ We couldn’t lose. We couldn’t lose this game. I was just trying to keep guys confident and encouraged. Ultimately I wanted it to be on my shoulders. If we lost this game, I wanted it to be on me.”

Blue-collar grinder that he is, West considered Hill’s rebound when boxing out Wizards center Marcin Gortat, after a missed 3-pointer by Beal at 81-76, to be the game’s biggest play. West hit from 21 feet at the other end to bump the lead to seven and the Pacers kept pushing, to nine, 11, 13, 14. Washington came up empty on eight straight possessions and the reality started to hit home.

Reality is hitting home for Indiana too, that as pesky as the Wizards were, they aren’t Miami. The Pacers, meanwhile, aren’t the Pacers, not the guys who breezed for four months or, maybe, not the ones who’ve wandered for the past two.

Just maybe, what didn’t eliminate the Pacers will make them stronger. That’s West’s take and he’s sticking to it.

“This is not going to be an easy thing,” he said. “What we’re trying to do and the journey we’ve been on, it’s not been easy. And it’s not scripted. So you can’t say this series is going to go one way, this series is going to go another way. You’ve just got to keep preparing every single day and take the moments as they come.”

They start coming in a few days, on a floor that seems to mean little anymore, against an opponent they’ve wanted from the start but now have to actually face.

“Again, we’re going to trust who we are,” West said. “We never lost our confidence in our abilities. We’ve had some tough games against some tough teams. … Atlanta put us on the brink. They stretched us out and they really made us have to go inside ourselves. As a group, figure out who we were and where we wanted to be.

“We easily could have been home already.”

They’ll be home Sunday, whatever that means and whoever they are.


VIDEO: Previewing the Heat-Pacers conference finals

51 Comments

  1. Pepe says:

    The way the Pacers have collapsed, I see this series as a Game 6 victory for the Heat. The Finals will be a rematch of last year. Heat will three peat!

  2. ROMULO CATOR says:

    In fairness to the Pacers, we hope Roy Hibbert plays consistently well everytime., because if only to show the world
    that he is ready for the three peat, Lebron James gang of Miami Heat is ready for it.

  3. eb says:

    Who’s Jerome Beasly? Get you facts straight before you talk basketball on a blog.

  4. okc2014 says:

    Both OKC and Pacers have struggled so far in the playoffs. But in comparison, The Pacers have it so much easier going into the Leastern Conference Finals. All they have to do, is get their minds right. OKC is down a key player. What’s the problem Pacers???

  5. dcawston says:

    That headline makes no sense at all.

  6. Explorer says:

    Miami in 5

  7. Lustydouche says:

    First off, let me say all this won’t even matter because the Spurs are winning the championship this year. If you can’t see that than your blind. But I would say Pacers in 6 or 7 in a hard fought series against the Heat that they will barely win. Then the Pacers will go down in 5 to the Spurs in the Finals. Even if the Heat win this series, they will go down in 6 to the Spurs. I’m a Knicks/Nets fan so no Spurs fan bias over here. You just can’t deny the writings on the wall. Tim Duncan will retire with a championship.

    • Nowaybro says:

      Read, “spurs are winning the championship”, thought maybe he’s an optimistic spurs fan and then I read, “pacers in 6 or 7 against the heat” and I knew you were crazy lol. Do you even watch basketball games or are you just watching stats and highlights? Because if you were watching the real games you would see that the heat are playing 10x better as a team then the pacers are which is the reason they breezed through the first 2 rounds. Im willing to bet that it will be heat vs spurs in the finals. As far as who is gonna win it’s anyone’s guess but if you think the spurs will breeze through the heat then that just shows again how little you watch basketball

  8. jaysantos says:

    It is hard to actually predict which team will win this series. Homecourt advantage will always be important. That is the reason why there is a regular season in which teams work hard to get the advantage. It is stupid to say that it is not important just because teams they fought in the first and second round won on their home courts. Man, these are NBA teams that owners spend millions of dollars and winning is always top of the mind. Everybody has a 50-50 chance to win every game. It is just a matter of who gets more touches, more opportunities and luck. Looking forward to a great east finals. This is one hell of a rivalry.

  9. Jlm says:

    People tend to forget one important thing… Each series… Each team is its own chapter….. Yes the pacers struggled against the Hawks but it’s a matchup problem….. It’s all about match ups… The pacers gathered the pieces to give Miami it’s match up problem… Come Sunday the talk is over and time to compete

  10. alli says:

    I think pacers will win the seise

  11. Jose Castillo says:

    INDIANA jugó 13 juegos en la primera y segunda ronda para llegar hasta aqui. MIAMI tan sólo 9. Esos 4 juegos de diferencia y la inconsistencia que ha demostrado INDIANA será la diferencia en beneficio de MIAMI. Por otro lado, el jugador franquicia de INDIANA es muy inconsistente. En ocasiones juega como MVP pero en muchas otras es un jugador promedio. MIAMI en 6 contra INDIANA y en 7 contra San Antonio. OKC no pasa debido a la lesión de IBAKA.

  12. GunneR says:

    What the crazy heat fans don`t understand is that the pacers are a much better and more experienced team than last year(eve though they struggled for part of the year,still finished 1st though),as for the heat they are a year older,tired and most important of all the DON`T HAVE NEARLY AS GOOD OF SUPPORTING CAST as the previous 2 years.Oh and yeah,the Pacers are a match up nightmare for the undersized heat.

    • TMac says:

      The Heat has always been undersized compared to the Pacers, and that didn’t matter because the Heat still beat them in the playoffs twice.

  13. Harsh says:

    Home court advantage doesn’t matter, Hawks proved that. Pacers could match-up the skills (which i’m not 100% convinced), however they definitely lacks the mental toughness which is required to win Championship. Heat in 5.

  14. Blog-So-Hard-2014 says:

    Yeah, whatever.. Miami in 5

  15. TROYBOY says:

    The scripture was written before the start of the season. Game 7 @ home against the Heat. Get your popcorns ready for an exciting 7 game series. May the best team wins.

  16. TheKush says:

    I got the pacers winning this series vs. the heat. any team that has Jerome Beasley on it can’t win a championship it doesn’t even look right! That said I don’t see the Pacers winning a championship. The Pacers wanted this I think they’re ready that said I can’t see them winning it all. I got OKC this year I see this being a good year for the NBA because I see 2 small market teams in the NBA finals which is Great for the game!

    • Nowaybro says:

      Okc (the team with the very inconsistent durant and Westbrook) is totally gonna beat the spurs and the heat with no Ibaka. Lol good one

    • Jay says:

      No OKC in the finals..Serge was injured and out of the rest of the postseason..the two OKC stars they don’t play defense..even if they get it collectibly with their OKC team..the Spurs may 4-0..Miami vs Spurs in the finals..

  17. Brian says:

    Miami in 6. Pacers will not win unless they have Lebron. PG not there yet. Pacers home court or not doesn’t matter Heat 3-peat

  18. Rohan says:

    Pacers will go 3-0 and then win 4-2

  19. HEATWINSIX says:

    The only team in the NBA that can beat the Miami Heat in a seven game series is the Miami Heat! When they play their style of defense consistently and the offensive cylinders are pumping ( and I would challenge any team at their best level) no team has more talent, skills and experience and definitely no team has the GOAT! which Miami has. To beat them you have to beat Lebron James 4 times.. Good Luck with that because he is still warming up and raising his level right now as we sit here writing these comments. The best of the Heat is yet to come.. Miami in 5 against the Pacers and Miami in 6 against the Thunder!

    • Chris says:

      The spurs beat themselves in the finals last year. What are you talking about? Credit to Miami for giving it all they had, but spurs took their foot off the gas last year and Miami took advantage. Key examples? No Duncan in the final minute, why would pop need to rest Duncan if the season was pretty much over? That size disadvantage made it far too easy for Bosh to get an offensive board. Spurs also missed free throws in the clutch, and Ginoboli with the exception of game 5 was at is worst.

      Spurs on all cylinders can challenge and beat Miami. Not saying they will, but they definitely can. but you disrespect other great teams by saying Miami is guaranteed.

  20. lakers says:

    Miami in 6….Pacers have no shot…maybe 5

  21. ed says:

    This will be a 7 game series – a grind fest. These teams know each other too well and regardless of how they were playing coming in, they both will show true colors in this series.

    I expect the pacers to pull this off with home court and lebron carrying all the dead weight around him for way too long now. Wade is one hard foul away from a season ending injury. Ray Allen and Bosh will both be non factors as usual against the pacers. Lebron has to beat the pacers single handily – which is going to be tough for 4 games.

  22. topdollar8 says:

    Let’s all remember that since Miami’s Big 3 came together 4 years ago, they are 13-1 in Post Season series. 13-1. Ya’ll really think Pacer’s have a shot???? lol

  23. EARL SIXBERRY says:

    DO THE NBA REFS KNOW THE WORD PUSHING IN THE BACK FOR REBOUNDS
    H.S. REF FOR 23 YEARS BIRD HAS THE PACERS PLAYING JUST LIKE BOSTON TEAM (WHAT IS THERE NAME)??????

  24. thespectator says:

    took a lot for the pacers to beat the hawks and wizards…some can argue that the bobcats were a joke, but what about the nets? i think nets were a much more of a challenge then hawks and the wiz..but n e ways, all the talk is put to rest and now its time to see what the pacers are really about…personally i dont see this going to a 7th game, its possibly..but i think spo, the coaching staff and pat riley have all been preparing for this matchup and got some things up their sleeves, not to mention the wizards and hawks have provided plenty of video footage on how to beat the pacers…right now it feels that this pacers team isnt much of a threat to miami as they were last year…should be an interesting match up…but i say its gonna be a rematch of 2012, miami vs okc..which then miami will win cuz the only team left that gives heat a true problem is the spurs.

  25. BonnieBear29 says:

    Good to see Indiana get things back on track, but with Bynum and Turner not working out I don’t think the results are going to be different than last year. Indy needed both of those guys off the bench to be able to handle Miami for 7 games. Unless they get something out of their bench the starters are going to get worn out. They even looked worn out for most of the second half last night against a weaker Washington defense.

  26. Masa says:

    It has been one year that I’m waiting for that: KingJames Vs PG – the Best in the East! The Pacers are here because they won, it doesn’t matter they had troubles, in the end the important thing is to come to the finals. Hibbert came back in the right time, when he’s most needed. I think West is so important in this team, the veteran, the leader, the one who could reply to the questions … don’t forget the average age of the others, the stars are young and rising, not 4 times MVP….
    Miami has James, he is the key factor, if he plays as he knows, Miami wins – but this will be the best finals we could see in the East, no other teams could give us the show!

  27. NeutralFan says:

    If you judge the games based on the 1st 2 round, you will be totally wrong. It is a teamwork, not single-man games. Heats problem is they have no aggression except James because he wants to prove he is as great as MJ, KB. Pacers had more energy when playing against Heats because they need a revenge. It will probably be a Game7 results but Pacers weighed higher.

  28. xanti911 says:

    if the two bigs of the pacers are really aggressive against the heat, they’re gonna win this hands down….i’d say 4-1 pacers….

  29. Yep, and it seems that Roy Hibbert fooled us all BIG TIME!!!

    As soon as Andrew Bynum was done in Indy Roy started to rebound and score points again…..and suddenly the Pacers are back on track!!!

    Now it’s time for the moment that we have all been waiting for in the East. I would say Pacers in 6 :)
    (but would not mind to see a final between Heat & OKC at all)

    Go Pacers!!

    Love this game

  30. jdub455 says:

    they wont beat the heat despite having homecourt advantage… lol… theyre just like pierce and kg who really thought they would beat the heat bec of the 4-0 season…

    • GrayMatter says:

      They are nothing like Paul Pierce or KG. Those cats have very little left in the tank. You could also say that about Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem to name a few. The Pacers are younger and will put up a stiffer test than Brooklyn.Again,Pacers in 7 in a hard fought game (because they do not like each other).

      • D.Allen says:

        I have to agree. After playing against the Nets….in a strange way…the Heat should see the Pacers don’t REALLY present the multitude of challenges the Nets presented. They were REALLY REALLY tough to defend…with Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, D.Williams, Livingston with his postting up, Thorton, Anderson,Teletovic and Blatch coming off the bench. Man…what a challenge. The Pacers are dangerous….but just don’t present as many challenges. The Nets might have done Miami a BIG favor.

  31. mikmaks says:

    Results is going to be the same as last year… The only problem for the Heat is the Spurs.

  32. iamironman says:

    Pacers got what they wanted: a determined Heat team lead by Lebron James. Sorry Pacers but home court doesn’t matter much for championship teams like Miami or even the Spurs. Heat in 5

  33. Hisouka says:

    Heat and Pacers are just lucky that they are not in western conference. If they will be, I think they will be eliminated in first or second round of playoffs.

    • jorge says:

      That’s a joke my friend. Two times champion. I guess the heat won the finals against teams From the west….Just saying….

  34. Hisouka says:

    Heat and Pacers are just lucky that they are not in western conference. If they will be, I think they will eliminate in first or second round of playoffs.

    • HEATFANSINCEWADE says:

      @Hisouka, Heat are back to back champs….. They beat the best team in the west two years running. What are you talking about? They even have an amazing record against the west. Go watch soccer! You dont know basketball lol

      • jorge says:

        Man sometimes people make some stupid comments just because they pay attention to others. I dont mean to be disrespectfull but come on seriously

  35. okctofinals says:

    On one hand, the Heat are the only team in the playoffs with only 1 loss, while everyone else has at least four. But the first team they played was the weakest team in the playoffs, so any other playoff team probably could have dropped them in 4 straight. Dwayne Wade had his best game of the post season, but it still didn’t look like Flash of old, or like the guy who torched the Spurs in Game 4 last year. The Pacers have had some unexplainable inconsistencies, yet always seem to win right when it matters. I think homecourt will be a big advantage IF there is a game 7. I understand Miami is the favorite between the two teams, but I don’t think it would be fair to count out the Pacers. The Heat are tired, having been to the last 3 Finals. Like it was pointed out, only L.A. and Boston have been to 4 Finals in a row. It’s possible OKC and San An will beat each other up in the West so that whoever comes out of the East has a chance, but both teams just seem too good to lose to the East winner. Of course, there’s the whole Lebron James factor. But however much he shines, he’s going to need some help.

  36. YungMussuBlack says:

    But, Miami defeated their demons, checking the Brooklyn Nets in game 5 after going 0-4 in the regular season against the same team. That gives Miami an edge; they beat what was once undefeated by them. The Washington Wizzards and the Atlanta Hawks are not that…..by a long shot. Both those Pacers opponents are subpar refurbished teams designed to frustrate, not eliminate. The Pacers were saved by their higher grade; They were made to eliminate the Miami Heat. Maybe that default drive will kick in on Sunday in game 1, or mybe they will experience that characteristic 1st game stall, which might prove to be their fatal flaw, setting in elimination.

  37. Chris says:

    Both teams have struggled to beat one another on the opposites home court. If it goes according to that, pacers will win in 7. Otherwise you can expect to see Miami in the finals again.

    • thespectator says:

      regular season stats dont exist in the playoffs..only thing that exists in the playoffs is talent, skill, and championship mindset, out of the two teams which one has more of those things? whoever that team is, will win the series.