PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Pacers lead 3-2.
Winning on the road isn’t necessary for the Indiana Pacers to win this series, or even the NBA championship.
Yet, it sure would be a big boost of confidence to win at Miami.
To avoid facing a Game 7, the Pacers will try to do what no team has done in 2 1/2 months as they look to beat the Heat on their home floor to wrap up a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.
The home team has won every game—only one was decided by fewer than 11 points—to give Indiana a 3-2 lead in this semifinal series heading into Game 6 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
That venue has not seen a visiting team win since Toronto on March 2, a streak of 18 consecutive home victories for the Heat. Indiana was thoroughly outplayed in Games 3 and 4 at Miami.
“Miami’s home record speaks for itself. Eighteen wins in a row is an awesome number,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “If we go down there and play a so-so game, we’ll get beat. We’ll have to play our best game of the playoffs to have a chance.”
However, Indiana does not need to win in Miami to win this series, or any other, because it finished with the league’s best record. Game 7 would be Thursday at Conseco Fieldhouse, where the Pacers have won 13 straight games and the Heat have lost eight in a row.
Miami has lost nine consecutive playoff games on the road, including an 0-6 mark during this postseason following Saturday’s 94-83 defeat in Game 5.
“It’s kind of mind boggling to try to figure out what the difference was in the way we played,” Heat forward Caron Butler said.
One major difference in Game 5 was Indiana finally benefitting from its size advantage over a small Miami team. The Heat had 23 more rebounds through the first four games, but the Pacers had a 47-30 advantage on the boards Saturday and a 42-26 edge for points in the paint.
Center Jeff Foster was a big part of that success, having the best playoff game of his career with 20 points and 16 rebounds. He had a total of 32 points in Indiana’s first eight postseason contests.
“Jeff Foster was just outstanding,” said All-Star forward Jermaine O’Neal, who had 22 poitns and eight boards. “I tell him at practice every day that he has not tapped into his true talent. Jeff is going to continue to improve and really, really help us.”
Foster and O’Neal played big roles in limiting Lamar Odom to 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Odom had averaged 19 points and shot 59 percent from the field in the previous three games.
The Heat also could use more production from Eddie Jones, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season at 17.3 points per game. Though he made three 3-pointers and had 15 points Saturday, Jones is averaging just 10.2 points and fewer than eight shots from the field per game in the series.
Rookie Dwyane Wade continues to be Miami’s best player in this series after getting 16 points and 10 assists Saturday. He’s averaged 20.4 points and 6.4 assists through five games.
A big difference for the Pacers in the visits to Miami has been Reggie Miller’s production. The veteran sharpshooter totaled seven points and went 1-of-6 from 3-point range in Games 3 and 4, compared to an average of 14.7 points and 6-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc in three games at Indiana.
“Our energy level was 10 times greater (Saturday) than in Games 3 and 4,” Miller said. “We need to bottle it and take it back there.”
If the Pacers don’t, they’ll be headed back to Indianapolis for a winner-take-all game against a team that was 10 games under .500 as recently as early March.
“The ball is in our court to try to force a Game 7,” Butler said. “We’re going to have to come out with a lot of hustle and play with passion. I’m not saying that guarantees a victory, but on our floor it gives us a better chance.”
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Pacers - O’Neal, 21.8 ppg; O’Neal and Foster, 8.1 rpg; Tinsley, 6.2 apg. Heat - Wade, 17.5 ppg and 5.9 apg; Grant, 8.5 rpg.