20130429-135523.jpgWe love a good conspiracy theory in these parts and, as long as the NBA is around, we’ll never have a shortage of evidence to call into question.

Make no mistake, however: the officials haven’t been great, but neither have they anything to do with the Pacers being down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. That is entirely the team’s own doing.

There were two particularly questionable judgments in Game 5. In the second quarter, Chris Andersen bulldozed Tyler Hansbrough to the floor from behind. When Hansbrough stood up, Andersen advanced and gave him a two-handed shove to the chest.

The officiating crew – Danny Crawford, James Capers and Marc Davis – studied the video replay and assessed technical fouls to both Hansbrough and Andersen, as well as a Flagrant 1 to Birdman.

You have to wonder if the replay operator showed the whole play, or just the portion where Andersen shoved Hansbrough, because it’s impossible to believe officials could’ve seen all that transpired and rendered that particular judgment. The event took place well behind the play, so if all eyes were on the ball in the frontcourt, they would not have seen the full unfolding of Andersen’s aggression in the backcourt.

Andersen deserved a flagrant for the initial knockdown and a second for the shove. He should’ve been ejected then – as Chicago’s Nazr Mohammed was in the second round for shoving LeBron James to the floor. If the NBA has any credibility at all, Andersen will be suspended for Game 6 Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Pacers trying to make a move, officials awarded the Heat the ball after it clearly hit James’ leg on the way out of bounds. Ray Allen hit a 3-pointer on the gift possession to put Miami up 77-66, Paul George then turned it over and Dwyane Wade scored on a fast break to make it a 13-point game, effectively quelling the closest thing to a threat the Pacers would put together.

Given the blown 24-second clock call in Game 4 that cost the Pacers a basket but ultimately had nothing to do with the outcome, there has been no shortage of focus on the officials. And not just in Indianapolis. Miami fans were in an uproar over James fouling out and Wade’s questionable traveling call late in Game 4.

The officials certainly have earned criticism. They do not deserve blame.

As they did in Game 1, the Pacers let one slip away. Though James’ outburst in the third period has been the focus of most, the Pacers laid the groundwork for their demise in the first half, when they controlled things at both ends but did not fully bear the fruits of their labor. They committed nine turnovers and missed at least four layups and thus what should’ve been a double-digit lead was a scant 44-40.

James then did his thing in the third quarter, scoring 16 points as Miami dominated the period 30-13 to take a 13-point lead into the fourth. Even in the face of that, the Pacers had their chances to hang around but missed 11 shots and threw it away five more times.

The irony of this series is the Pacers have played the Big Three game, while Miami has been far more balanced.

Paul George, Roy Hibbert and David West combined for 66 points on 53 percent shooting in game 5. The rest of the Pacers managed 13 points, 13 turnovers and 5-for-20 shooting. The starting backcourt was particularly awful, as George Hill produced a single point and Lance Stephenson didn’t score until things were out of hand in the fourth quarter.

As for the bench, well, there isn’t one, so it’s hard to be too critical of the players when the fault lies in the front office.

And so we arrive at Game 6, an elimination game, yet another crucible for this still-evolving Indiana team to experience. The players need look no further than the nearest mirror to see who will truly bear responsibility for its outcome.

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