I have been telling you,* this is the series this Pacer team has been waiting for since last season ended. This team has been carefully constructed specially to counter the Miami Heat. They have been booted from the playoffs the last two years by the Miami Heat in very tough series. The Heat have been the king of the heap for a few years now. I’m not saying the best way to build a team or something everybody is necessarily happy with, but the Pacers are a team (and fanbase) completely obsessed with beating one team: the Miami Heat.
*”You” being anybody who will listen.
Given that, you have to totally throw out basically everything that happened since the All-Star Break. At that point, the Pacers had pretty firmly put themselves in the driver seat for the top seed in the conference, which was the first step in this process of “Beat the Heat.” Once that happened, the team went into cruise control a bit. And, yes, it almost bit them in the ass. If the Heat hadn’t slacked off as well, the Pacers might not be sitting where they wanted to be. But, the fact remains, at the end of the day, the Pacers grabbed home court advantage over the Miami Heat. When the playoffs started, yes, the Hawks are a bad matchup, no doubt. But this team was also sleepwalking through games, acting as if this series was a birthright. Again, it nearly bit them in the ass, facing two elimination games in the first round. Washington went better,* because Washington is built more traditionally. But, still, this was still clearly a team that wasn’t fully engaged yet. But they did enough.
*Again, as predicted here.
And now? The Pacers are right where they wanted to be from the time the clock hit zero in last year’s game seven. Eastern Conference Finals, facing the Miami Heat, and with home court advantage.
And what happened? The Pacers suddenly looked like that driven, locked in team they looked like at the start of the year. And, don’t look now, but they’ve put a few of these games together now. I’ve written it here, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Nobody in the league can grab the Pacers’ attention the way the Heat can. Sometimes to the team’s detriment, to be sure. But when you are actually facing the Heat? Yeah, it works in their favor. It might have been a bit ugly lately, but they got to the point they wanted to be.
I would also like to think that the Heat* showed their true colors before the game. They like to talk a big game about how Heat-Pacers isn’t a rivalry, how they don’t care what happens in Indiana, so on and so forth. But there was LeBron telling his team in front of the all the cameras and however many millions of people watching that game making his big proclamation. “We know what this is about. They don’t like use, we don’t like them,” he said.** “They talked all year about wanting home court. Be careful what you wish for.” That sounds like somebody who cares, right?
*Or at least LeBron, but what’s the meaningful difference there?
**Paraphrasing, but I’m pretty damned close, I’ll bet.
I would believe it a little more if he hadn’t done it for the cameras, though. And if the Heat had played decent. But let’s not mince words here. The Pacers kicked their ass yesterday. Now, nobody is calling for a sweep here.* I don’t think anybody is expecting less than six games, and the overwhelming majority are looking for a seven game series like last year. But Miami looked like a team that didn’t know what hit them. Their defense was atrocious, and the offense wasn’t much better. Dwyane Wade had 27 points, but they sure seemed like the most meaningless 27 points anybody ever had. My wife and I both mentioned how it seemed like Wade did exactly nothing all game, only to find out later that he led all scorers. Yeah, the Heat made some runs late, but the game was decided by then. The Pacers had all the answers whenever they needed them, and had their patented third quarter beatdown that put the game out of reach. Pacer fans really couldn’t have asked for anything better.
*It would be nice, but I don’t expect it.
Now, do I think what LeBron said was all for show? Not at all. I think he spoke honestly and from the heart, while still being fully aware cameras are everywhere. But this also looked like a Heat team that had a relatively easy draw. The Bobcats provided no real resistance, which was expected as soon as Al Jefferson couldn’t go.* Brooklyn had some promise going into their series, given how their regular season meetings had gone. But, no, Brooklyn just looked old, slow, and beaten before they started. Not surprising, given the ex-Celtic core. Expected, but definitely not the kind of challenge that’s going to sharpen your team to prepare for an opponent that has done nothing but target you in particular for two solid years. A team that, honestly, should have beaten you the year before. Much like the Pacers seemed surprised in how Washington came out of the gate swinging in Game 5, the Heat didn’t know how to handle the energy and determination from the Pacers.
*A fitting end to the Bobcats era, really.
So, yeah, the Heat are going to strike back. They might not win game two, but they are going to strike back. It is going to be a tough series, they are not all going to come as easily as yesterday did. But the difference between the Pacers against the Heat and, say, the Wizards against the Pacers? The Pacers have already shown they can hold their own against the team. The Pacers already have two series under their belt that say they can hang with this team. They also have those two years of smoldering resentment that the Wizards didn’t have. And it came in the opening game of the series, not with their back against the wall, down 3-1.
Besides, have you seen this Pacer team with their back against the wall? They know how to respond to that sort of pressure. Of all the issues the Pacers have had, responding to that situation has not been one of them.
Now, let’s hope the Pacers don’t have to worry about that situation. Like I said, a sweep would be nice.