Unpredictable Indiana Pacers Throw Another NBA Playoff Curve

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 29, 2014

Call the Indiana Pacers' 93-90 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 lucky. Call it anomalous. Call it "nothing to worry about" if you're the Heat.

Just don't call it out of character.

Throughout this postseason run—more like a stumble, actually—Indiana has played with wild unpredictability and bizarre fluctuations in intensity. The only consistent aspect of its play has been, all together now, inconsistency.

As a result, the Pacers' narrative has been oddly cyclical; we proclaimed them dead against the Atlanta Hawks, only to watch them rise again to take the series in seven games. Against the Washington Wizards, they dropped Game 1 before reeling off three straight wins.

And facing elimination against a Miami team that seemed utterly superior in every way, the Pacers somehow clung to life again.

It's what they do.

But this latest instance of resurrection was stranger than any that came before.

LeBron James found himself in foul trouble in the early going, heading to the bench with three personal fouls just six minutes into the second quarter. When he picked up his fourth mere seconds after halftime, the Heat grew concerned.

Foul No. 5 came with 8:33 remaining in the third quarter, at which point it was clear the Heat would be playing most of the second half at less than full strength.

In all, James logged just 24 minutes and scored only seven points, his lowest postseason output ever.

You can grouse about the typical nonsense when it comes to James' supposed preferential treatment by officials if you want. Maybe it's true he usually doesn't get the same whistle as other players. And maybe he was due for a few questionable calls against him.

The point here isn't whether James was treated fairly or unfairly by officials. The point is: James' truncated game was an oddity, and if you're at all interested in guessing at how the rest of this series will progress, it's safe to assume James won't play such a small role going forward.

But that's just it. When it comes to the Pacers, there's almost no use trying to guess at anything.

For example, nobody could have foreseen Paul George going off for what might have been his greatest playoff performance ever—considering the circumstances. He was fantastic down the stretch, scoring 31 points in the second half (21 in the fourth quarter) to finish with a hefty total of 37 on the night.

He also took (and made) critical shot after critical shot in the final period, often bailing the Pacers out of bad possessions with contested triples.

James' absence meant George didn't have to expend copious amounts of energy chasing him around on the defensive end, and it was clear he benefited from having some extra fuel in the tank down the stretch.

David West also played well, scoring 19 points and snatching nine boards. Give Roy Hibbert credit, too. He registered an exceedingly rare (for him) double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.

But back to the things nobody expected, which is really the key area of discussion following a victory so few saw in Indiana's future.

There was Rashard Lewis convincing himself it was 2004, hitting six triples in nine attempts to tie Dwyane Wade's total of 18 points in the game. There was also the stunningly low free-throw total for the Heat. And we're talking historical stuff here, folks:

I'm guessing George feels pretty good about home cooking now, even if seeing the Heat come out on the wrong end of the whistle won't put $25,000 back in his pocket.

Unlike the Pacers for most of these playoffs, Miami was somewhat predictable in Game 5—in a good way. It fought through the tough whistles, hung together with James on the pine and refused to engage Lance Stephenson's antics, which were completely ridiculous, by the way.

I'm guessing there's not a precedent in the NBA rule book for fining ear-blowers, but there'll surely be one soon.

Through it all, Miami soldiered on, though it probably could have done without 12 live-ball turnovers and lackluster work on the boards. Even Pacers coach Frank Vogel noted the Heat's resiliency after the game:

Vogel might want to check out another stat before he starts marveling at Miami's ability to hit tough buckets:

In the end, Chris Bosh's contested triple from the right corner, which came on a terrific look from James, wouldn't fall. And the Pacers won.


Are all of the strange, improbable and hard-to-foresee events of Game 5 likely to repeat themselves in Game 6? Will James score just seven points again? Will George drop another 21 in the fourth quarter?

Probably not.

But that's the thing: These Pacers don't care about "likely" or "predictable."

It's hard to know whether Indiana's wacky chemistry and roller-coaster season primed them for the way they've played over the past few weeks. Maybe the Pacers are perfectly comfortable being the wild card. Perhaps they embrace the totally erratic character of the three series they've played so far.

Whatever the cause and however comfortable the Pacers are with their up-and-down play, we should all abandon the futile exercise of counting them out.

If trends and statistics and regression actually have meaning, we should absolutely proclaim the Heat heavy favorites in Game 6. After all, it'll be in Miami, and James will be particularly motivated to avenge his career-worst playoff performance.

But the Pacers defy prediction. They were supposed to be dead a dozen times this season, and they haven't croaked yet.

And if they ultimately succumb to the Heat in Game 6, finally going out in predictable fashion, let's all agree not to remember the Pacers that way. Losing on the road to the defending champs is predictable, and Indy doesn't do predictable.

Instead, we should all remember Game 5 as the perfect symbol of the Pacers' run, as the last maddening entry in Indiana's topsy-turvy campaign.

Because nobody saw it coming.


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