MIAMI – The antics of the Indiana Pacers’ wild child have dominated the Eastern Conference finals’ news cycle over the past several game nights and off-days.
It might be time, however, for the Pacers to put away childish things. And look to their resident grown-up, David West.
West is about as far removed from Lance Stephenson as anyone on the Indiana roster gets. West doesn’t blow in opponents’ ears in a juvenile attempt to get under their skin. He has been known, though, to cast a withering glare in some guys’ direction, the intent behind it – along with West’s burly 6-foot-9, 250 pounds and New Jersey no-nonsense roots – understood and wisely heeded.
West doesn’t yap, either. He chooses his words carefully and doles them out sparingly, such that they resonate way beyond the motor-mouths’ banter. Usually his message is loud and clear before he utters a word.
This is Game 6 coming up, West’s killing field twice already in these 2014 playoffs and the moment that, unless it belongs to West, might not belong to the Pacers.
“It’s not something I go out and look to do,” West said of his Game 6 performances against Atlanta in the first round and Washington in the East semifinals. “It’s part of how the game goes. Sort of what the moment dictates.”
Those moments dictated desperation. Against the Hawks, Indiana was right where it is now: down 3-2, on the road, its season in jeopardy. The Pacers had fallen behind 84-79 in the fourth quarter when West had had enough – he scored 12 of his 24 points in that period and sparked the 16-4 run with which Indiana closed the game .It was the power forward’s first double-double of the postseason.
Against Washington, the circumstances weren’t quite as dire: Indiana led 3-2 in the series. But the precocious Wizards had blown out the East’s No. 1 seed in Indianapolis by 23 points and were gaining confidence. West and the Pacers didn’t want lose at Verizon Center and have to put their home court to the test.
“My message to [teammates] was, ‘Just come to me,’ ” West said that day. “Ultimately I wanted it to be on my shoulders. If we lost this game, I wanted it to be on me.”
So West scored 29 points, hitting 13-of-26 shots, the most field-goal attempts he’s ever taken with Indiana and his most, period, since he was playing for New Orleans in 2009.
Said Indiana center Roy Hibbert: “He’s a veteran player who’s been through it all. He exudes a lot of confidence and he’s very contagious.”
Here’s a comparison of West’s work in two Game 6s vs. his other 16 playoff games:
G6: 26.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 5.0 apg, 23.0 FGA, 50.0 FG%
Others: 14.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 11.8 FGA, 47.9 FG%
Against the Heat so far, West has averaged 16.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists, and he’s shooting 53.1 percent but on 12.8 attempts. He has faced a gauntlet of defenders against Miami coach Erik Spoelstra‘s multiple matchups, from LeBron James out of position and out of sorts in Game 1 to Shane Battier and most recently Rashard Lewis.
West, 33, never has been the type of player who consciously has tried to take over games. Even for guys who do, that often doesn’t go well. The pressure’s too great and the defense dedicates itself to choking him off, and that can be that.
But the approach West took in that elimination game in Atlanta, the resolve he flexed on the Wizards’ floor two weeks ago, is needed now more than ever. And as West said in Washington: “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. … We easily could have been home already.”
The Pacers want to go home now, they just want to drag Miami back with them. They played the entire 2013-14 season for one thing: To have Game 7 of the East finals at home against the Heat. To get there, they all have to go through Game 6, and maybe David West.