MIAMI (AP) Frank Vogel stood with his back against a wall, seeming perfectly comfortable.
He’s hoping his Indiana Pacers can do the same.
The Pacers’ season of great expectation is now in great trouble, with the Miami Heat leading the Eastern Conference finals 3-1 heading into Game 5 at Indianapolis on Wednesday night. The Heat have won three straight in the series, and are now one win from ending the Pacers’ season for a third consecutive year.
“I think anytime you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some,” Vogel, the Pacers’ coach, said in a downtown Miami hotel lobby before his team headed to the airport Tuesday. “But we can’t worry about that. All we’ve got to worry about is coming back and winning Game 5 and giving us an opportunity to come down here and win one game.
“We’ve won one game in each playoff series that we’ve played here the last two years. We should have confidence that we can do that.”
It’s safe to wonder if confidence is in short supply, though, as the Pacers seem to be rattling.
Some Indiana issues in the last three games include: Floundering late to lose Game 2 at home, blowing a 15-point lead at Miami in Game 3, Lance Stephenson calling LeBron James out before Game 4, Roy Hibbert failing to score a point Monday, and Paul George and David West both putting that loss on what they thought was one-sided officiating.
“Home-cooking,” George said.
Added West: “We learned some new rules.”
Vogel said he wasn’t bothered by what George said, and declined to say if the Pacers would argue Game 4 officiating points with the league office. The league, however, had issues with George’s comments and fined the Pacers forward $25,000 on Tuesday for public criticism of the officiating.
Despite the fine and George’s concerns, Indiana – bolstered by a 37-15 edge in Game 1 – has still taken 94 free throws in the series to Miami’s 87, and the Heat have been charged with four more fouls.
“We can’t control calls,” Vogel said. “We’ve got to worry about what we (can control), our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense.”
There was some irony in George’s postgame remarks Monday night, in which he alternated between seeming to gently chide Stephenson for his “weakness” comments about James and making multiple references to the free-throw disparity in Game 4.
After Game 1’s one-sided foul-shot totals, the Heat did not openly complain about officiating.
“It had nothing to do with the disparity in that game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We did everything wrong.”
They’ve pretty much done everything right since.
And now it’s the Pacers who have absolutely no room for error, since only eight teams in NBA history have successfully overcome a 3-1 series deficit. No one has done so this deep into the playoffs since 1981.
“We know we can close it out, but it’s going to be a very hostile environment,” said Heat forward Chris Bosh, who scored 25 points in Game 4. “We’re expecting that. We’re expecting them at their best. It’s always extremely hard to close out a team.”
Vogel – who held a pre-flight film session before the Pacers left Miami – said he implored his players in that meeting to only think about Game 5 and not allow themselves to become consumed with the daunting task of climbing out of a 3-1 hole.
“I think that is when we are at our best, when our back is against the wall,” Pacers guard George Hill said. “We are going to be home in front of our fans and I’m sure they’re going to be going crazy.”
The Heat would expect nothing less.
A win would give Miami more than a week off before the NBA Finals begin on June 5. It would also give the Heat franchise the distinction of being the third club in NBA history to make the finals in four straight seasons, joining the Celtics and Lakers.
“We don’t want to come back for Game 6,” James said. “We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we’re going to have to work for it. It’s not going to be easy, not against this team.”
NOTES: Neither team practiced Tuesday…. Heat F Chris Andersen, held out of Game 4 with a deep thigh contusion, was getting treatment Tuesday. So was Heat G Ray Allen, who took a tumble after a hard screen late in Game 4.
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