The NBA Eastern Conference Finals beginning on Sunday will feature the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers as widely expected, but the bumpy path followed by the Hoosier state squad definitely left their fans in cardiac mode. Starting with early season dominance and a late stage swoon before the playoffs, the Pacers struggled through a seven game series with the pesky Atlanta Hawks and then finally wore down the surprising Washington Wizards in six. Team chemistry appears to finally be clicking at the best possible time as the team prepares to begin play against the Lebron James led Miami team.
Game one in Indiana definitely places much pressure on the Pacers, as the hard earned home arena advantage can be lost with a misstep on Sunday. Pacers players said throughout the regular season that they wanted to have the best record in the Eastern Conference so that a potential game seven against the Heat would be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The margin was so close last season in the seven game conference finals loss. The Pacers team became convinced that the way to beat down the Heat was securing the right to a game seven at home.
Against the Hawks, the Pacers played behind the eight ball until reaching the seventh game. Losing the first, third and fifth games, often deal killers in the playoffs, the team had to claw its way through the Hawks. The trouble with the Atlanta team was probably rooted in an April 6 Pacer loss to the same club in which Roy Hibbert totaled zero points and zero rebounds in nine minutes of action. The funk beginning with that game took hold of Hibbert and continued through the playoff series with the Hawks. The Indiana Pacers’ bumpy path to the Eastern Conference Finals has paralleled the struggles of its star center.
Luckily for the speedway crew, Hibbert broke out of his nasty slump with a breakout game two performance against the Wizards. The 28 point onslaught surprised everyone, perhaps even Hibbert. The center seems to be back to his normal play, but a four point effort against the Wizards in game five still causes the Pacer faithful to have lingering doubts. Given the difficulty of the Heat to combat the strong effort of Hibbert in last season’s seven game conference finals, the Indiana squad needs the center to bring his “A” game to Bankers Life on Sunday.
The Indiana Pacers appeared to need a team marriage counselor or psychologist as they have bumped along their curious path to the Eastern Conference Finals. Paul George, Lance Stephenson and David West have done just enough for the team to win the first two rounds. Beating their nemesis Lebron James and the Heat will require something more. Hibbert will need to be a monster against the sized challenged Miami team. If Hibbert plays large, the Pacers have a great chance of moving to the NBA Finals. If Hibbert is average or less and the Pacers resort to small ball, the Heat will smoke them.
Commentary By William Costolo