MIAMI — These had been a few heavy days, not just for Chris Bosh, but for his team.
However they downplayed it publicly, many in the organization were concerned about his lingering slump, one that stretched his single-digit playoff scoring streak against the Pacers to seven. There was enough concern that Dwyane Wade and friends dropped in on him at a restaurant, LeBron James spent two days pondering how to get his teammate going and Erik Spoelstra called the first play for him.
All of that contributed to him putting up 25 points in a 102-90 victory, one that gave Miami a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Clearly, the cloud had lifted, along with his spirits, as he took his perch at the podium in a loose pink shirt, analytically answering six questions about the routine and attitude that played a role in his performance. Then, when asked if he'd had a "mental crisis," he provided a little levity.
"No, no, no, no," Bosh said. "Mental crisis, that's for the weak-minded, my friend."
Bosh didn't add the natural corollary because it's not the Heat way to publicly belittle an opponent.
But someone needs to.
That's for the Pacers.
That was the obvious takeaway from the Pacers' lost holiday weekend in Miami, one that resulted in two convincing losses and much too much boasting, complaining and backbiting.
Not even close.
Not with the way Lance Stephenson handled Sunday's media session, making the ludicrous leap that, because LeBron James had finally acknowledged his presence with some on-court chatter, he had gotten under James' skin, to the point that James was "showing weakness."
Not with the way they started this game, with five turnovers in the first 11 minutes, while failing to establish their primary strength against Miami, their bulk advantage in the post.
"The game plan wasn't really utilizing me much," said Roy Hibbert, who went scoreless on four shot attempts. "Just try to be effective wherever I can. Would I have liked to get a few more touches earlier on and get going? Yeah. That's just how the cookie crumbles sometimes."
He never even got crumbs. Not that he helped much, by committing cheap fouls that kept him out of the game. Stephenson did the same and didn't score until converting a free throw with 4:34 left in the third quarter.
Not with a point guard, George Hill, who doesn't consistently handle ball pressure or contain his man.
Not with an All-Star, Paul George, who commits as many turnovers (five) as all nine Heat players.
Not with Stephenson slumping his shoulders when he doesn't get the ball.
Not with a coach, Frank Vogel, who can't keep his team from getting rattled, attempting to rattle the Heat's three-point shooters by trampling over the NBA's unwritten rules.
In Game 2, Vogel tried to throw off Norris Cole as the third-year guard rose to shoot. Monday, he stalked Shane Battier, then yelled prior to the veteran's release. Cole didn't hear Vogel in Indiana ("I'm zoned out, man") before making his shot.
Battier made his in Miami.
"You don't hear anything," Battier said. "You hear nothing. I didn't notice it. Was he screaming at me? That's news to me...He's the man, he can do what he wants for his team. It makes them feel part of the game."
Battier recalled Lawrence Frank and Vinny Del Negro using the ploy regularly but added that "if I was a coach, you have a lot of things to worry about, and that's not one of them." Battier does sense that Vogel is worried about something else when it comes to him.
"He's one of the guys who does not like when I call out what plays come in," Battier said. "I've been doing it my entire career. But some coaches really, it irritates. I don't think he likes me very much. When the play comes in, he waits until I turn away, and I stare right at him."
Vogel might want to turn away from a few other things over the next couple of days, until Wednesday's tipoff in Indianapolis: newspapers, websites or televisions that capture his own players' comments late Monday night.
They were the clearest signs of all that his team isn't ready to take the next step.
All season, the Pacers tried to emulate the cohesion and camaraderie of their East rivals, shooting group photos and videobombing each other. But their cohesion has shown cracks as the adversity hit, and they have been unable to emulate the one attribute that matters most: professionalism.
One by one, they revealed their immaturity during the interview period, by revealing too much about everything.
Stephenson claimed he had "no regrets" about his comments, even though it was clear that his teammates disapproved of them, and even though James was engaged—and at times, enraged—in a way that was detrimental to Stephenson's team. At one point, James had outscored Stephenson 29-1 while punctuating his more powerful slams with point-making, crowd-rousing gyrations.
"I got a smirk out of it," James said of Stephenson's statements.
Hibbert, as has become his custom, moped about his lack of impact and implied that others played a role: "I can only control what I can control. I can't control plays called for me and stuff like that."
David West, typically the team's rock of responsibility, cryptically alluded to needing to adjust "to the new rules" that allegedly caused the 34-17 free-throw disparity.
"I thought we were aggressive," West said. "I thought we were consistently getting two feet in the paint. Like I said, we learned some new rules tonight."
And then there was George, who played well enough (23 points, seven rebounds) but again showed he's still a few stages short of a leader. His honesty, while welcomed by the media, isn't especially helpful to his squad's situation, especially not when he's taking turns blaming the officials and chiding his teammates.
"Looking at the stat sheet, we outplayed them," George said. "You got to give them credit. They won this game at the free-throw line. They really just were able to get to the line more than we were, but I thought we outplayed them tonight."
He continued down that track when asked if he was discouraged or disheartened.
"It's just demoralizing when a game is lopsided," George said. "I mean, I'm sorry to say, but that was the case, again."
The Pacers have shot 94 free throws in the series.
The Heat have shot 87.
"You can't tell me we're not aggressive," George said. "Maybe we're too aggressive. But I feel like we're just as aggressive as they are attacking the basket and making plays at the rim. Maybe this was just home cooking."
Oh, and he also cooked Stephenson.
Charred him, actually.
Not to say that Stephenson was undeserving.
"Lance is young, and that's a teaching point," George said. "That's a learning lesson for him. Sometimes, you've just got to watch what you say. You're on the big stage. Everything we say is going to be bulletin-board material. It's really going to have a powerful message behind it. We've just got to be smarter with situations and just voicing our opinions sometimes."
George, just four months older than the "young" Stephenson, wasn't wrong.
He probably wasn't wrong when he said "maybe so" to a question of whether Stephenson psyched himself out with his comments. And he certainly wasn't wrong when he added that "when you make comments regarding trash-talking and just being caught between another player in a matchup, you got to bring it. You got to bring it."
But it seemed the wrong place and time to bring this up, especially after George and his team had just finished saying a bunch of other things that are sure to be distractions over the next couple of days.
About the officials. About their opportunities. About each other.
Things that would be better handled in private.
Not long after George left the podium, James and Dwyane Wade took his place, and Wade spoke about how losing the mental game to the Celtics for several years taught the Heat stars that "the only way we're going to beat them is if we beat them playing the game of basketball. They're great at that mental game."
Are the Heat great at it now?
Well, better than they were, and better than the Pacers are.
"We try to leave that alone," Wade said of serving up, or responding to, bulletin-board material. "We try to beat you at basketball. We don't go into the back-and-forth talking because that's not what we're here for, and that's not what's going to win us a game. So we try to beat you at basketball."
They'll try to do that again Wednesday, pouncing as the Pacers come apart.
"It just comes from experience," Wade said.
No one is born ready.
You become ready.
And only one of these teams is.
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