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The perception of the Indiana Pacers entering into their second round series against the Miami Heat was that they just wouldn’t be tough enough to contend with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade – and the same was said even after Chris Bosh went down. The big bad Heat were the clear favorites and the Pacers were just a good team that didn’t have a go to guy to score for them late in games and nearly everyone thought that this would be a sure win for the Heat.
But the Pacers showed last night that they are unwilling to back down from this team. They realized that they can compete with Miami so long as they execute offensively and force the Heat to make what seems to be impossible decisions and shots late in games. You could tell the Pacers were really getting under Miami’s skin when Dwyane Wade gave a forearm shiver to a defenseless and clueless Darren Collison on a fastbreak – an act that Wade should have been ejected and suspended for. On a play in the fourth, LeBron James and Danny Granger got tangled up under the basket and James nearly lost his cool and hit Granger with a stray elbow. And Granger got right in his face and didn’t back down.
This was the complete opposite narrative than almost everyone expected. The Pacers were supposed to fold when the Heat’s stars imposed their wills but instead, Indiana’s loaded cast made all the right plays last night and Miami didn’t know how to react. The Pacers took Miami’s run in the fourth and then hit right back with a run of their own, taking the lead late in the game. And as we’ve seen for two years now – for whatever reason – if you can keep it close against the Heat late in the fourth quarter, they will give you a chance to win. Cue LeBron missing two free throws while down one in the final minute of the game and Wade missing a wide open lay-up down two after getting the ball in the post with 25 seconds left.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s piece…
The Pacers got a win they weren’t supposed to last night and they were exuberant about it after the final buzzer. But then a veteran vehemently demanded his guys head back to the lockerroom. That veteran was David West.
West would later tell TNT that he wanted his teammates to head back to the lockerroom because one win is nothing to celebrate. That their goal wasn’t to beat Miami once; it is to beat them four times. I don’t think you can come up for a better message for a young and relatively inexperienced team like the Pacers.
As writers, when an off-season move takes place we immediately start to analyze how player X fits with team Y as a player. I was very fond of the David West signing for the Indiana Pacers this off-season. Schematically, West gave Indiana a much added mid-range jumpshooter that played perfectly in the pick-and-pop game and was a second threat on the block to play alongside Roy Hibbert. I liked the move so much that I picked the Pacers to finish fourth in the East and to finish in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, which they did.
Those are the kind of conclusions that we can draw whenever an acquisition is made. The Pacers lacked a floor spacing big man and they got one of the best in the game in West. As expected, that made them a better team this season. But something that we can rarely predict is how a given player will affect his new lockerrooom. There are some players that we label as “cancers” and there are others that can be really great for team chemistry. And there are guys like David West. They are few and far between, but their effect is profound.
West’s biggest contribution to the Pacers this season may not even be the numbers he put up or the role he played in the pick-and-roll offense. The personality that West has brought to this Pacer ballclub has completely changed the complexion of the organization and perhaps even the Eastern Conference. Miami still has the two best players in the series and they could very well go to Indiana and take game three to regain homecourt advantage before taking the series in five or six games. But it won’t be because the Pacers were intimidated by their presence. And even if Miami has the two best players in the series, without Bosh their offense has little movement, which has constantly killed them in fourth quarters, Paul George has showed to be a tremendous defensive weapon for Indiana and when the Pacers are executive they’ve proven they can get good looks against Miami’s defense.
Regardless of the outcome of this series, it’s already clear that this Indiana team is not a playoff pushover. And David West has a whole lot to do with that.