What a difference a couple of games makes for the Indiana Pacers.
Five days ago, the Pacers were a team filled with bravado and just a short time later have gone soft.
That is according to team president Larry Bird, who called out his team after the Pacers suffered the worst postseason loss in franchise history, 115-83 in Game 5 to the Miami Heat. But when a legend like Bird speaks, people listen, and his comments will provide the spark the Pacers need to force this Eastern Conference Semifinal to a seventh game.
Following his team's embarrassing loss, Bird called his team out as Pacers beat writer for the Indianapolis Star Mike Wells reported.
Larry Bird: "I can't believe my team went soft. S-O-F-T. I'm disappointed. I never thought it would happen."— Mike Wells (@MikeWellsNBA) May 23, 2012
Make no mistake about it, Bird knows exactly what he's doing with his comments.
He did something similar while playing for the Boston Celtics back in the 1984 NBA Finals. Bird called his team "sissies," and they responded by winning the final two games of the series and the NBA championship.
For the Pacers, expect them to come out with energy and toughness. Someone had to light a fire under this team after back-to-back losses, and Bird took it upon his shoulders to accomplish exactly that.
He’s just trying to amp them up. That’s all. That’s all it is, James said. He knows his team isn’t soft. But with them, with their backs against the wall at this point, he knows what he’s doing. He’s not the executive of the year for no reason.
It's an interesting choice of words for Bird, whose Pacers have taken on the Detroit Pistons Bad Boy persona through three games of the series, but Bird's words were simply to motivate his team and have them come out with a chip on their shoulder in Game 6.
It will work.
No athlete likes to be embarrassed. Either on the floor or by the president of the organization. You have to think Indiana will come out and give their best effort on both ends of the floor.
Pacer's forward Danny Granger didn't think Bird's words were strictly for motivational purposes, as he agreed with the assessment. Granger told Helin:
I agree with his assessment. We did play soft, Granger said Wednesday. We got smacked around. We got beat up, we got bullied, and we really didn’t respond well.
I’ve been with Larry since I’ve been in Indiana for seven years, Granger added. He’s not been one to hold his tongue, and 99 percent of the time what he’s saying is right. I think he just called out what everyone else saw. We played a soft game. We didn’t play with the playoff intensity that we needed to win.
No matter whether Bird was speaking the truth or trying to fire up his team for Game 6, the Pacers really have only two choices. Either the Pacers respond to Bird's criticism, or they curl up and get beat down for 48 more minutes.
Indiana has too much pride to do that, and no athlete likes to have their pride called into question. They will be motivated for Game 6.
We'll see what type of effect Bird's words will have on his team come Thursday night, but remember, when a legend talks, people listen.
I would start making plans for a Game 7.