With the Eastern Conference semifinals knotted at two games apiece, both the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat understood the leverage a victory in Game 5 would entitle. For Miami, a victory meant a one game cushion and a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Final heading into Game 6 in what they expect to be an extremely hostile Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. For the Pacers, a victory in Game 5 would allow them the chance to play for another day for a chance to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2004.
While this series between the No. 2 and 3 had been physical through the first four games, the line between “Playoff Basketball” and reckless hasn’t crossed.
The 2nd quarter of Game 5 was a different story…
With 10:23 left in the quarter, Dwayne Wade was leveled by Tyler Hansbrough on a questionable Flagrant-1 call. Upon replay, it appeared Hansbrough was making a legitimate play on the ball, until he followed through across the head and face of Wade, knocking him to the floor and cutting open his face along with an elbow to the base of Dwayne’s neck. Further sealing his fate, seconds after the call, Tyler can be seen slapping a nonchalant low-five with teammate Lou Amundsen. While many make a case for a clean hard foul, the referees correctly assessed this play. Regardless of what the call was, the bigger impact of this play would be felt throughout the remainder of the game.
About a minute later, with 9:26 remaining, a nearly scripted possession for the Pacer’s Hansbrough took an ugly turn as Udonis Haslem met him mid-flight at the rim with a two-armed swing to the head in retaliation for the hard foul on Wade. This violent collision caused Tyler to end up on the deck and Haslem drawing a rather generous Flagrant-1 call from the referees. A flagrant-2 call could be argued since it appears that Haslem made no attempt on the ball in an effort to protect his teammate and to send the Pacers the message that they cannot just take cheap shots at his team without repercussion.
The remainder of the game would include some random stray elbows, jersey grabs, minor head contact, and forceful body contact in pursuit of blocks, loose balls, etc., but nothing that would be considered retaliatory until the last 20 seconds of the game; waste time in a 115-83 blowout Miami victory.
As Lance Stephenson approached the paint on a meaningless Pacer possession, he was struck by an extended Dexter Pittman elbow in the neck, sending him crashing to the floor. This play eerily reminds us of the vicious blow Metta World Peace unleashed on James Harden at the end of the regular season. For a third time, such a physical foul was deemed on a Flagrant-1 resulting in just two foul shots and a possession for the Pacers. By far the worst foul of the evening, Pittman’s elbow was inexcusable and detrimental to not only his team, but to the league which has many children viewers who look to the players as role models and does not condone violence.
In the aftermath of this ugly physical Game 5, many wondered what the discipline would be for the actions of Hansbrough, Haslem, and Pittman.
Thursday, the NBA handed Udonis Haslem a one-game suspension and Dexter Pittman a three-game suspension for their actions, while Hansbrough avoided discipline, which is surprising, but not shocking due to the rather mild appearance of the foul.
With each side already short-handed and unhealthy, these suspensions have the potential to greatly impact each team.
Up 3-2, Miami is forced to try to close out the Pacers on their own court, without their No. 1 or 2 big men to help counter the interior attack of Roy Hibbert and wounded David West. Instead of Bosh (abdominal strain) or Haslem (suspension), Erik Spolstra is forced to play an even smaller rotation with Ronny Turiaf, who has been almost nonexistent on the offensive end, and Juwan Howard, who has played limited minutes all season, which consequently gives the rebounding advantage Haslem has provided back to Indiana.
This scenario is going to force LeBron to play more down low post in order to limit the rebounds of Indiana, and provide Miami more opportunities to attack the rim, which James and Wade have found to be the key to dismantling the Indiana defense while luring Hibbert and West into foul trouble. LeBron has publicly admitted that playing in the post wears him down and limits his energy. This is an opportunity for the Pacers to try to limit the historic pace that James and Wade are currently on. Limiting and controlling the dynamic duo is going to be the key to a Pacers victory. With Danny Granger (ankle) and David West’s (knee) production being limited, Indiana is going to need to play the game of their season and lead a balanced attack against the Heat on the verge of elimination tonight. They have a fired up home crowd on their roster tonight along with a significant size advantage over Miami, if there was ever was a time to have their best game, tonight is the night for the boys of Indiana.
Tune in to ESPN as the drama unfolds, tonight at 8pm. It should be a good one.