Pacers Are Proving to Be Toughest Opponent in Big Three Era of Miami Heat
Now, mind you, this is coming off a come-from-behind Game 1 victory for the Heat that the Pacers were so successfully able to dictate with their style of play that Chris Bosh would later tell the Sun Sentinel of the contest: "We got away with that one, that's how we feel."
Needless to say, this series may only be two games old. And the Heat aren't exactly in a position of weakness despite playing their next two games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the Pacers have yet to lose in these playoffs. But the reality that should be setting in by now is that this Indiana team is the toughest opponent Miami has faced in the playoffs since the inception of the Big Three era.
Now, on one hand, that isn't exactly a bold statement.
After all, the majority of Miami's playoff battles have come through the Eastern Conference, of which most of its crop has reputably been littered with deficiencies.
Such as the hobbling, aging, in-the-twilight-of-their-prime Boston Celtics.
Or the one-man bands, led by a superstar like Derrick Rose and little else outside of a gritty but over-matched supporting cast.
Or even a team comprised of very good players but no superstar, as the Indiana Pacers were last year when taking a 2-1 series lead against Miami.
1. LeBron doesn't undergo bouts of stage fright in the closing moments of games anymore, thereby being the main reason his team loses a series (and no matter how many times Mark the Shark Cuban chooses to deny it, his decision to dismantle the 2011 Mavs spoke volumes).
2. In order to beat Miami, teams have to exploit its size.
Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins were never offensively capable enough to do that.
Roy Hibbert and David West, however, are.
West alone has been a one-man wrecking crew, punishing Miami all season long.
Prior to Game 2, his averages against the Heat were 23.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and a .650 field-goal shooting percentage.
Little side note: No matter which team advances in the East, David West is already a big winner. He couldn't have asked for a better stage or against a better team to drive up his free-agency value this summer. J.R. Smith just cried about that, by the way.
And then there's Hibbert, whose presence alone arguably made the difference between the outcomes of Games 1 and 2.
Did Pacers fans burst into epileptic seizures after Game 1 when Roy Hibbert was substituted moments before LeBron caught an inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds left on the clock, stopped to order a victory pepperoni pizza from Papa John's on his cell phone to be delivered at LIV nightclub, rehearsed a few dance moves from the Heat's Harlem shake dance video and then proceeded to lay the basket in the hoop?
Well, if Bill Simmons' Twitter response was any indication, then probably so:
Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out? Why take Hibbert out?— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) May 23, 2013
But the real revelation of this series has been Paul George, who capped off his initiation into the club of supremely elite superstars with a dunk on Chris "Birdman" Andersen that felt more like a fatality out of Mortal Kombat.
As a result, what was once considered mission impossible by NBA standards—especially after Miami's 27-game win streak—is no longer the case.
Perhaps the most sobering validation of all to how good the Pacers are is that, despite back-to-back Jordan-esque performances by James in the past two games, there was still a game to be won in the closing seconds.
All of this begs the bigger question: How do we digest this grim reality as Heat fans?
And there are really only two ways.
Your first, natural reaction is: "Holy hell, I'm scared crap-less because my team might actually get eliminated and, on top of being an absolute PR nightmare that vultures like Skip Bayless are just salivating over, it would temporarily destroy my sanctity of life."
But then your second reaction—and this is what truly separates the real fans from the bandwagoners—is just as an NBA fan. Someone who appreciates watching their teams face actual adversity and staying tuned in to the series to follow how they respond.
And to be quite frank—after the boring and meaninglessly long regular season that Heat fans were just made to go through—the second reaction should really be the most appealing by now.
We deserve to watch our team finally get their feathers ruffled and see how they respond.
We deserve to watch in anticipation as to whether or not LeBron will rise to the occasion once again as he did in Game 6 last year against the Boston Celtics with Miami on the brink of elimination. Or if he will shrink under the pressure as he did against Dallas in 2011 NBA Finals.
We deserve to watch Dwyane Wade prove his critics wrong, showing he is every bit the dependable superstar even when hampered by injury as he did against Indiana last year. Or validate their argument the way his subpar performance in Game 2 Friday night ultimately did.
If Miami loses this series, it will be a bitter pill to swallow. But the Heat will eventually reload, mindful to address their weakness in the middle via free agency like never before.
But if they win, then the championship that will hopefully follow will be all the more gratifying—probably even more so than the one they won last year.
And really though...isn't that why we love sports?
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