There was a time a few weeks ago when the Miami Heat seemed to feel that the Indiana Pacers were just another bump in the road to their ultimate goal. Just another team that stood idly in the way or their coronation. Maybe that is just how the national media felt.
After a bruising and physical Game Five though, the Heat are taking a few bumps and not overlooking the Pacers. Now Miami wants to get past Indiana just to be free of the constant bickering and attention-grabbing the Pacers seem to be after.
Indiana’s narrative has been a return to past glory after wandering in the dark following the regrettable fight at the Palace of Auburn Hills. But that does not mean the Pacers are not looking for a fight.
Indiana has been physical and, according to some Miami players, doing a little bit more than that to try and bait Miami into a critical mistake.
That might have been some of the impetus for Tuesday night’s extremely physical Game Five. After all, this series has seen Indiana needle Miami repeatedly.
There was bench warmer Lance Stephenson giving LeBron James choke signs after missed shots late in the game. There was Juwan Howard approaching Stephenson before Game Four to confront him about his off-court behavior during games.
Even star Danny Granger has been in on the act of getting under Miami’s skin. Granger received a technical foul in Games Two, Three and Four. All three of those technicals were received after Granger got a little too physical and verbal with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade after rough fouls.
“Whatever he’s trying, it is not working,” James told Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com on Tuesday before Game 5. “He’s said he’s not scared of LeBron, I want to let [James] know. I guess he’s doing it for his own psyche. It’s stupid.”
“I’m all for standing up for your guys, but certain things you just can’t keep doing,” Wade said. “My message to Granger was that you just can’t keep running up into people’s faces for altercations. We’re not fighting on this basketball court, so let’s not act like we’re going to fight. We can be physical and do all that, but certain things got to stop. Are you out here to play basketball or are you out here to be a tough guy?”
Granger rolled his ankle pretty badly just before halftime in Game Five and was not 100 percent before leaving early in the third quarter. It seemed like the Heat were happy to have him gone as they opened up a very large lead with him off the floor and ran away for a series-controlling win.
He admitted though before Game Five that he was tiptoeing a fine line. Judging by Larry Bird’s reaction following his team’s loss Tuesday, the team is still trying to find the balance of “tough” and TOUGH. Bird flat out called his team soft after the loss.
Pundits would have you believe that acting tough while not actually being tough is a sign of “softness.”
The Pacers knew they had a tall task heading into this series. Miami is not an easy team to beat even with Chris Bosh out. Indiana had advantages in its physicality because of the inside presence of David West and Roy Hibbert.
But the Pacers needed to do more than that. They wanted this series to be about respect. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr pointed it out on the broadcast for Game Five that the Pacers felt disrespected in this series. It derived mostly from the fact Indiana finished with the fifth best record in the league this year and ended up on national television just twice.
This is their stage, so to speak.
So when the Heat clowned around some in Game One and seemed to continue to show them disrespect, the Pacers had to step up to the bell and make a statement.
They certainly did that by winning Game Two on the road and running away with Game Three. The chippiness though might be detracting from this goal and giving Indiana a reputation the team simply does not have.
Maybe the fact that the Pacers are getting under the Heat’s skin is a sign that respect has indeed been earned. Now might be the time though to focus on the series and staying alive after Thursday’s Game Six.