Strange and powerful forces were indeed at work in Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday night. Not only did LeBron James foul out and pick up a technical in the very same game (heads will roll) but Dwyane Wade was called for traveling in a clutch situation.
For the first time since the vacuum tube was invented, this prompted ESPN to do a segment on how – wait for it – the indiana pacers received a favorable whistle against the MIAMI HEAT.
Which is absurd, of course, given the ridiculous ruling on the shot-clock violation that wasn’t, a blown call in the fourth quarter that wiped away a bucket and what would’ve been an 11-point Indiana lead.
Understand, when the Heat does not get the benefit of the doubt on every call, when LeBron, D-Wade and Co. are not handed games on a silver whistle, it certainly seems strange.
Not to mention wonderful.
Through it all, there was one palpable, tangible, undeniable force that controlled Game 4: the Pacers’ remarkable will. That, more than anything, explained their 99-92 victory that tied the Eastern Conference Finals.
“We’re mentally tough,” said Roy Hibbert, dominant inside again with 23 points and 12 rebounds. “Not one guy in that locker room didn’t believe we were going to win this game tonight. We showed fortitude and we picked each other up. We never held our heads down. We know they’re the champs. They’re one of the best teams in the NBA right now. We know we’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. We’re never going to give up. We’re relentless. All those guys in (the locker room), they believe we can win.”
If not, you should.
They hit the floor with an attitude, controlling most of the first half with a defense that can best be described as swarming. James got nothing done in the post after being dominant there in Game 3, but Mario Chalmers became quite the pest late in the half, sparking a 24-10 run that put the visitors up 60-54 in the third period.
At that moment, the gravity was such that I Tweeted these words:
“If Pacers do not respond quickly and comprehensively this will be the last home game.”
They did. Or to put it more directly, David West did. The elder of the young lions stepped forward with a dominant burst, scoring seven in a 10-point answer that put the Pacers back in front.
Miami challenged again, closing to 71-70, late in the period, sending Paul George to the bench with his fourth foul in the process. But George Hill converted a ridiculously tough drive for a three-point play, James committed a mindless turnover with two seconds left by throwing an elbow at West after receiving an inbounds pass and Lance Stephenson made him pay, throwing in a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer and the Pacers led 77-70 after three.
“When he’s good, we typically struggle,” Frank Vogel said of Stephenson, who not only scored 20 but assisted in the defense of James. “But when he’s good, we’re pretty darned good. I mean, that’s the simplest way to put it and it’s very accurate: he’s the barometer.”
(Some blind squirrel actually wrote a blog before the game singling out Stephenson as the key. Nutty.)
Just when it looked like the Pacers were getting on a nice roll, that 24-second-clock call came. Miami pounced, put together a 17-5 run and took an 89-86 lead with 5:14 left.
“In the playoffs, on the road, you’re up by three, handful of minutes to go,” said Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra. “The way we are, we pride ourselves in closing out games.”
Only they got closed out.
Hibbert’s monstrous three-point play capped an 8-0 Indiana burst and put the Pacers in front 94-89 with 1:30 left. After James hit a three, Stephenson converted a tough drive.
Then came the events that set off an earthquake in Bristol. James hip-checked Stephenson while setting a screen for Wade and fouled out with 56 seconds left. After Paul George drive into trouble and threw it out of bounds, Wade was called for traveling when he took two steps back for a 3-pointer but didn’t shoot.
“We’ve shown a great deal of resolve all year,” Vogel said. “This is the first chance we’ve faced adversity this playoff season. Our guys rose to the challenge to start the game and then, when Miami came and took the lead, they rose to the challenge again.”
So now it’s a best-of-three series. The Pacers have done what so many loudly doubted: given themselves a chance to pull one of the biggest upsets in conference finals history.
Do you believe?