Not even 24 hours after suffering a 102-90 loss in Game 4 that puts Indiana on the brink of elimination ahead of Game 5, Pacers coach Frank Vogel conceded the obvious: His team is hurting.
"I think anytime you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some," he told reporters on Tuesday. "But we can't worry about that. All we've got to worry about is coming back and winning Game 5 and giving us an opportunity to come down here and win one game."
Hope is waning on that front.
The once-cocksure Pacers didn't play like a team preparing to fight off the defending champions Monday night. Their defense was strangely awful, exploited by a Heat offense that milked LeBron James and Chris Bosh of everything they had.
Roy Hibbert spent most of the game in foul trouble and was ultimately rendered a non-factor. Lance Stephenson just looked plain off, devoid of the usual fire he espouses nightly.
Things just weren't right. The Pacers lacked resolve and fight, and had no answers as to why afterward.
It's just demoralizing when [the free throws are] lopsided. I mean, I'm sorry to say, but that was the case. How rare is it we shoot 50 percent, turn the ball over around 13 or so times, outrebound a team and lose a ballgame? I thought we did a great job. I just thought we did a great job. ... But, again, they made 30 free throws, and that put them over the edge.
Free throws were an issue—the Heat attempted twice as many as Indiana (34-17)—but the Pacers are kidding themselves if they believe that's why they lost.
Game 4 wasn't about them. Not really.
It was about the Heat's superiority, about them exposing the Pacers for what they are, as Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes details:
A deeply flawed team that lacks a functional offense, a serviceable bench and anything resembling a go-to scorer, Indiana is up against a terrifyingly superior opponent. So it's not really fair to ask more of this team than it has already given. These Pacers have maxed out their potential.
It's not the Pacers' fault we overestimated what that potential was.
Losing three straight playoff games would be detrimental to any team's cause. For the Pacers, it's worse. In part because their opponent won't slink off, but mostly because this club has surpassed its ceiling by relying on psychological preeminence—the ability to believe in itself.
Now it enters Game 5, tasked with holding home court against the best. While the Pacers may win, this series is over. They don't have the spunk necessary to complete this impossible comeback.
Facing elimination, the Pacers' invaluable gold swagger has been displaced by doubt, along with the harrowing realization that they—as constructed—simply aren't good enough.