The Miami Heat have not lost two home games in a row all season. The Indiana Pacers had not lost a road game since March. Going into game five of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final NBA Playoffs series, something had to give.
The end result was a 115-83 curb-stomping from Miami, giving Indiana their worst loss ever in the NBA Playoffs. The game was a horrible display from the Pacers, making each player and every coach look unprepared and overwhelmed by the Miami onslaught. The Heat charged at the Pacers, literally running them over and nearly knocking them out.
But Indiana was not without their opportunities. The Pacers battled back for much of the first half, before stumbling into halftime and then crumbling completely. The Pacers forced Miami into eight turnovers in the first half, six of which were in the first quarter. Indiana trailed by only four points late in the second quarter, before a sloppy turnover resulted in a deep shot from Miami. After that, with less than 20 seconds until halftime, another baffling one-shot possession led to a long rebound and fast break dunk by Lebron Jamesto end the half.
The game’s final stats do not really tell how close Indiana was to switching the momentum in their favor, before the score (and some players) got out of hand. The Heat were bringing the fight all night, and early on, the Pacers fought back. The Miami crowd seemed to be sitting on their hands, almost timid or dis-interested to what was unfolding in front of them. The Heat never trailed, but didn’t seem comfortable or very confident with their early leads. There were a few moments in the second quarter that changed everything completely.
The now-infamous barrage of flagrant fouls in game five began with 10:23 left in the first half, when Tyler Hansbrough caught Dwayne Wade across the forehead during a layup attempt. Hansbrough got a lot of the pumpkin with his palm, but followed through with the swing, opening up a small cut over Wade’s right eye. The play was called a flagrant foul 1, which gave Miami two foul shots and possession of the ball. Prior to Hansbrough’s foul, Indiana only trailed by four points.
Less than forty seconds after that, in a situation that has gone nearly unmentioned in the national media, Wade crashed into Indiana guard Darren Collison in the open court. Collison was taking the ball up after a Wade miss, and Wade ran at Collison in mid-court and gave him a shoulder bump that sent both players to the floor. A foul was called on Wade, but there was no mention of an intentional foul or unnecessary contact. In game two of this series, Wade shoved Collison in the back on an open break, sending one of the smallest players on either team sailing into the first row.
Sixteen seconds after the Wade foul, with 9:26 left in the half, the whole thing began to unravel. Hansbrough was going up for a short hook shot, when Heat forward Udonis Haslemmet him in the air. Haslem swung both of his arms down towards Tyler’s neck, missing the ball completely, and sending Hansbrough to the floor. This hard foul was undoubtedly in retaliation for the earlier hard foul on Wade. Although Haslem hit all body and no ball, and his intentions were obvious, he was also only charged with a flagrant 1. Had Haslem’s foul been upgraded, he would have been ejected, and the momentum would have totally swung to Indiana. Instead, the crowd took Haslem’s hard foul as a catalyst to wake up and finally get loud. In the span of less than a minute, three players made petty decisions and poor choices. It is possible that any one (or all) of these three players could have been ejected for their conduct on the court.
The final blow came late in the fourth quarter, when the game was way out of reach for the Pacers. With less than 20 seconds left in the game, Miami reserve center Dexter Pittman took a WWE-style swing towards Indiana guard Lance Stephenson. Pittman caught Stephenson in the throat with a clothesline, as Stephenson was running up for an offense rebound. Pittman was also only charged with a flagrant foul 1, and winked at his coach as he walked to the bench. It has been widely agreed upon that Pittman’s cheap shot targeted Stephenson because of the “choke” sign that Stephenson gave towards LeBron James during game three of the series. There might even be an investigation by the NBA concerning the possibility of a bounty out on Stephenson by the Miami Heat.
On Wednesday, the NBA upgraded each of the flagrant fouls. Hansbrough’s foul was upgraded to a flagrant 2. Haslem has been suspended for one game. Pittman has been suspended for the next three games. These foul upgrades after the fact are serious negative decisions towards the officiating by the referees for Tuesday’s game. Had the referees made the right calls at the right time, who knows how the game would have ended.
Prior to game five, both James and Wade had said that they weren’t going to “fight” the Pacers. Their words were kind of true and kind of false. James and Wade don’t need to fight anybody, if they can have other people fight for them.