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Heat don’t scare Pacers

May 29, 2013, 1:31 AM EDT

Heat's James and Pacers' Stephenson prepare to play during the fourth quarter in Game 4 of their NBA Eastern Conference Final basketball playoff series in Indianapolis Reuters

The Miami Heat have been the most heavily scrutinized team in NBA history, and opponents aren’t immune from getting sucked into the publicity whirlwind. For better or worse, playing the Heat is different than any other game. Some teams, like the Bulls, thrive when facing the challenge. Others, like the Nets, crumble under the pressure.

The Pacers do neither.

Indiana just plays its game.

The Pacers don’t have the most high-end talent among the remaining teams. (That’s the Heat.) The Pacers don’t have the most depth, either. (That’s the Spurs.)

But after winning Tuesday night to even up the East finals at 2-2, Indiana has shown the most resolve in these playoffs.

The Pacers lost back-to-back games to the Hawks by 21 and 11 and won the next game. They lost to the Knicks by 26 and won the next game. They lost again to the Knicks by 10 and won the next game.

Now, after losing to the Heat by 18, Indiana has bounced back again – this time with a 99-92 victory over the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

No team has lost more games by double digits in these playoffs than the Pacers. In fact, Indiana has lost more double-digit games than the other three conference finalists combined.

But these Pacers keep fighting back.

George Hill was part-time starter and part-time sixth man for the San Antonio Spurs at age 23. For a player who spent four seasons playing for a team that sounds like a list of Hoosier State tourist locations – Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis – such a large role at such a young age had to be a dream come true. Then the Spurs traded him to Indiana, a team that went 37-45 the year before and still cut his minutes.

Lance Stephenson was once New York City’s schoolboy star du jour, earning the nickname Born Ready. Then, he faced legal trouble and eligibility questions, spent an OK season at Cincinnati, was drafted in the second round, struggled through his first two NBA seasons and appeared headed out of the league.

Paul George told anyone who would listen that he had sky-high potential; that he could be the next Tracy McGrady. An All-WAC second-team season didn’t exactly prove his upside, but George went pro anyway. He was so focused on the draft, he shared that Fresno State’s losing season actually help him – because he could prepare for the draft while other prospects were still playing in the NCAA Tournament. He went No. 10 – much, much, much higher than anyone would have imagined a year prior. Then, early in his rookie year, after all his hard work to achieve his draft dream, George was regularly receiving DNP-CDs.

David West was so highly regarded at Xavier that he made Sports Illustrated’s All-Decade team with players from more traditional powers Duke and Connecticut. But when it came to the draft, West faced typical questions for a power forward who spent four years in college (size, athleticism, upside) and slipped to 18th in the draft behind luminaries such as Troy Bell, Reece Gaines and Marcus Banks.

Roy Hibbert wasn’t exactly Patrick Ewing or Alonzo Mourning, but Hibbert changed himself from a player who couldn’t do a single push-up into someone who credibly belonged on a list of Georgetown’s great centers. Still, questions about his mobility pushed Hibbert’s draft stock below Joe Alexander, Jason Thompson and Anthony Randolph, down all the way to No. 17.

These players have been hit a lot harder than they were by the Heat in Game 3. The narrative suggested they should crumble at the sight of Miami showing its might, but their personal experiences have given them strength in these difficult situations.

Together, Hill, Stephenson, George, West and Hibbert have grown even stronger, worked even harder, gotten even better. Their resolve has increased. They’re not phased by losing, winning, playing the Heat or anything else.

The Heat could very well still win this series, but they won’t get to the Finals by intimidating Indiana. They’ll have to win on the merits of their play.

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  1. erckle31 - May 29, 2013 at 1:54 AM

    Love this team. I feel like all NBA fans can like the Pacers because of what they stand for. Hard work, defense, dedication, no BS basketball. Real team basketball. They’ve all got a chip on their shoulders like no other.

    • sportsfan18 - May 30, 2013 at 8:43 AM

      All true points. They are similar to the Spurs in this way… Maybe the Pacers can become the Spurs of the Eastern Conf as the Spurs have been this way for 16 yrs in the West. I really like what Bird (know he’s not there anymore) and the rest of the Pacers organization have built up over the last several years and it would be great if they are able to get by the Heat.

      • pistolpete0903 - May 30, 2013 at 3:21 PM

        Vow….too early to bracket them with Spurs.
        Can’t see (in this age) or think of any team which can have the sustained excellence of San Antonio.

    • drago2012 - May 30, 2013 at 7:06 PM

      I am a Bulls fan, but i like the way Indiana plays basketball. Miami is a team comprised of bunch of bad actors , floppers and cry babies. Qweeeen James is really not that good of a basketball player. He has really no moves aside a steam roll to the basket on a fast break when nobody of his size or greater is fronting him. You put his arse on the floor few times and his game vanishes quickly. He can not hit the jump shot if his life depended on it. Looking at him, he reminds me quite a bit of an old white guy playing alley basketball. Don’t get me going on Mario Chumper!!! Chocolate Twizler is too soft and can only hit a shot when nobody is guarding him. Wade vanishes into a parallel universe for good parts of the game. Rest of the team is a bunch of washed up punks!!

  2. slystone111 - May 29, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    Easy to be confident when you know you’re facing LeBron James–the biggest playoff choker in NBA history.

    Can we officially put an asterisk next to his strike-shortened-season “championship” yet?

    • azarkhan - May 29, 2013 at 10:04 AM

      No, but we’ll put on next to your name: *Ignore

      • slystone111 - May 29, 2013 at 11:31 AM

        Ah, you are a clever one!

  3. craighsite - May 29, 2013 at 5:52 AM

    Dude you are an IDIOT!!! It is better to be thought of as a fool than to open your mouth (in this case type on your keyboard) and remove all doubt.

    • hollywood26 - May 29, 2013 at 8:46 AM

      I don’t even like the Heat or Lebron (Wizards fan) but I have to agree with craighsite. I hate Lebron but he’s not a choker. I think he is overhyped in terms of production/potential but he’s no punk.

  4. pxeeks - May 29, 2013 at 6:27 AM

    I hope they beat the Hollywood Miami Heat.

  5. gmsingh - May 29, 2013 at 6:58 AM

    A couple more games like this and the Bobcats won’t be afraid of the Heat either.

  6. ryanrockzzz - May 29, 2013 at 7:26 AM

    I love it. Good to see a team that was built over time giving a good run to the team that money built. Still don’t think it’ll be enough in the end, but hey at least it’s interesting.

  7. asimonetti88 - May 29, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    They are well coached. Vogel made a mistake by keeping Hibbert on the bench, but this team plays together and play very tough defense. Vogel, Shaw and the rest of that coaching staff have done a great job with this team all year. As a Lakers fan I can really see Shaw’s imprint on this team as well. The team plays tough and smart basketball and are really enjoyable to watch.

    • gostlcards5 - May 29, 2013 at 1:43 PM

      I agree. I can’t wait to see Shaw get a head coaching opportunity, because I think he’ll be a very good-to-great one. Ball don’t lie… :)

  8. titansbro - May 29, 2013 at 7:55 AM

    I hate the Heat too but a championship is a championship, shortened season or not. No one would be calling for an asterisk if the Thunder or Celtics had won it.

    • Kansachusetts - May 29, 2013 at 11:16 AM

      No one except the fans of all the other teams, particularly Lakers and Heat.

  9. loungefly74 - May 29, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    Chemistry goes a long way. They are a feel good story and I am happy for the Pacers. Lots of “2004 Pistons” in this team.

    • pistolpete0903 - May 29, 2013 at 3:32 PM

      Couldn’t agree more!!

  10. magic407 - May 29, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    Pacers: No Superstar (Perhaps a future in George) just a squad playing like a unit… thinking more “WE” than “I” … I truely think they deserve it, cause no one mentioned them in the beginning of the season… And you gotta love Stevenson…this has been the best series by far!

  11. azarkhan - May 29, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    Scared? I think some of the Pacers, particularly Lance Stephenson, despise the Heat. If this was the NBA of the 80′s, we would have already seen a couple fist fights.

  12. spankygreen - May 29, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    When a bunch of grown men, professional too tell another set of grown men that they aren’t afraid of them, well yes they are. It’s not about you being afraid, it’s about you competing and ultimately winning the dual.

    After the series is over and you’re the victor, then you can talk otherwise be quiet because there is still alot of basketball left to play. And to this point, DO NOT listen to the announcers (Pacers) about how great you are, not yet anyway because the Heat will make adjustments and come out again……..

    do not celebrate and believe the hype becaquse you’re still going down…..

    • indyspinster - May 29, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      Dual literally means two. Duel refers to usually an armed combat between 2 combatants. If you read the article, the Pacers weren’t quoted as saying they weren’t afraid, that was the writer. What they did say, however, was that they believe they can win against Miami, and proved that in the regular season and in the playoffs.

      Go Pacers.

    • johnnybooker - May 29, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      Too young to remember Muhammad Ali? Search some of his personal pep talks before the Foreman fight…no one talked more about NOT being afraid than Ali.

    • gostlcards5 - May 29, 2013 at 1:55 PM

      Who said that they weren’t afraid? Coach Vogel didn’t (he was supremely complimentary and respectful of Miami)…Hibbert didn’t (he lauded his teammates and their fortitude…that’s all). Feldman is the one that said they won’t be intimidated. I think the Pacers play shows that they’re not afraid.

      Additionally, if you listened to Hibbert in the post-game interview on the court, you could tell that he isn’t celebrating anything. He was fired up, and said it was going to take great effort again to have a chance in Gm 5, but he sounded like a guy that was ready to go at it again right then. I want the Pacers to win, but it is clear that Miami has more talent. However, with that being the case, the things that Roy said are EXACTLY what I want to hear out of one of my team’s star players, and he is the one guy that provides a huge matchup problem for Miami, if the Pacers keep getting him the ball and he keeps hitting with good efficiency. Frankly, I think over the Knicks series and the first 4 games of this series, you can see that he’s turning himself into a heck of a leader as well.

      • johnnybooker - May 29, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        I loved the look on Hib’s face when Sager interviewed him post-game. I love angry Hib…he took so much damn heat this year for being a post-contract failure…stay angry Hib…stay angry.

      • gostlcards5 - May 30, 2013 at 1:15 PM

        Totally agree…love the fire!

  13. emosnar - May 29, 2013 at 11:55 AM

    Rag Tag?

  14. pistolpete0903 - May 29, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    Lance who?
    As a Bearcat alum, gotta love his chippy attitude.

    This has been a coming out party-of-sort for Hibbert. Admitted, he hasn’t played genuine big guys (Tyson Chandler doesn’t count), but he is a good ALL ROUND All star center.
    Unfortunately, playing in Naptown means we wouldn’t be seeing him much. But hope to see his matchups against Howard and the Memphis bigs in the future.
    Another thing to be noted are the Heat struggles against quality big men. Could we, at some point see the return of big mean as the focal point of offense.

    • gostlcards5 - May 30, 2013 at 1:19 PM

      How is Chandler not a “genuine big guy”? He is 7 ft tall, and he was the defensive player of the year…what, last year…year before last?

      Hibbert has greatly improved his offensive and defensive game since his rookie season. I keep saying, remember he’s only a 3rd year guy. He’s going to continue to improve, barring injury.

      Love his leadership characteristics, too. My sons and I had a chance to meet him as part of a Boy Scout thing after a Pacers game late last year. Genuine, humble, good guy.

      • pistolpete0903 - May 30, 2013 at 3:19 PM

        I liked Hibbert from his Hoyas days and thought he had potential to be a star. Good to see that his hard work and humble attitude is paying off.

        Having said that, I don’t know how he can hold against fellow bigs on a consistent basis (not his fault that the ‘small ball’ approach has many teams using their centers as merely screen setters). That’s why I said I would love to see him match against Memphis/Bynum/Howard.

        I repeatedly keep thinking that if Pacers win against Miami, would it be the return of the traditional center as well. We will find out!!!!

  15. sportfan2 - May 29, 2013 at 8:18 PM

    I’ve been rooting for the Pacers hard.But there bench worries me. Also worry about them going into slumps for 5 and 6 minute stretches. If both of these factors are not magnified they will win.

    • gostlcards5 - May 30, 2013 at 1:20 PM

      I agree…they have not gotten much of anything off the bench in the last 4 games. Frankly, the Indy bench is due. Hope it’s in Game 5 tonight.

  16. drago2012 - May 30, 2013 at 7:19 PM

    I would bring West every time James goes to the low post and have West just brutalize him. Qweeen James has no stomach for that kind of a game. He wants to play soft ball and run out on fast breaks for high flying dunks, which by the way are not that impressive for someone his size. Now we all want to see Nate Robinson dunk a lot more!!!

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