Through five games, the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat have put together an incredibly entertaining series. However, a lot is still to be decided in the next one or two games.
Miami took the 3-2 lead thanks to a 90-79 victory on Thursday night. The series will now go back to Indiana, where the Pacers will have a chance to force a seventh game to be played in Miami.
While everyone involved is trying their best to win, a few guys have more at stake than others. A number of stars will be judged for the win or loss, and it is something that will stick with them at least until the end of the summer.
These players are under the most pressure to perform at a high level and do their best to help their team win the Eastern Conference Finals.
Paul George, Pacers
Prior to the start of the series, Paul George was hardly a household name among basketball fans. He won the NBA's Most Improved Player Award, but he was never put in the same conversation with some of the best players in the league.
However, his ability to stick with LeBron James defensively and put up huge numbers in the first couple of games turned a lot of heads. This matchup is legitimately turning him into a superstar over the course of a couple of weeks.
George struggled to get onto the scoreboard in the two games in Indiana, but he came back strong in Game 5 when he put up 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. If he can continue this type of effort and help his team pull off the upset, it will go down as one of the best individual showings in a long time.
The small forward is already a very good player, but these next two games can adjust his legacy more than anyone else on these teams.
Chris Bosh, Heat
While James is the star of the show in Miami, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade are still expected to provide a lot of help throughout the course of games.
Bosh was rarely the focal point of the offense, but he still finished with solid numbers, with 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.36 blocks per game.
In the first few contests against the Pacers, Bosh provided production relative to his season averages. Unfortunately, the last two games have been much worse for the forward.
Combining his efforts in Game 4 and 5, the veteran has totaled 14 points and eight rebounds. Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert and David West have dominated the interior and have kept the Pacers in the series due to the great rebounding ability.
Since coming to the Heat, Bosh has been considered a minor part of the "Big Three." If he continues to produce these low numbers, his perception will drop even further until he becomes expendable.
David West, Pacers
Among the big-time players in this series, David West is the only one at the end of his current contract. The next game could end up being his last with the Pacers, especially if he struggles.
The power forward has had a couple of huge games this series, but George and Hibbert are certainly taking away the spotlight. Those two players are showing that they are the stars that are needed to beat a team like the Heat.
Meanwhile, West finished the most recent contest with a game-low minus-19 while he was on the floor.
Indiana has to think long-term about which players are needed to win a championship. If the big man does not come through in the next game and the Pacers lose, he might be on his way out of town. At the very least, he will get less money than he hopes this summer.
LeBron James, Heat
No matter what happens in this series, it all lies on LeBron James. If the Heat win, he might get a little bit of praise, but if they lose he will get the majority of the blame.
For this reason, the MVP has completely taken over games as the postseason has continued. ESPN Stats and Info provided this stat to show how he controlled the ball in Game 5:
LeBron James touched the basketball 86 times in Game 5. He averaged 73 touches in the first 4 games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 31, 2013
The end result was 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists, which has become relatively pedestrian for James nowadays.
Still, he now has to maintain this level to please his critics. He also has to make every shot down the stretch, or else be questioned on talk shows for days.
All of the pressure is on James to succeed, and that will not be removed until he wins yet another championship.