INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel prepared a tape for his team to watch on Monday's off-day of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. It featured nothing but defensive play after defensive play from the first half of a Game 3 defeat.
Miami humiliated the Pacers during those 24 minutes, not just in posting 70 points, but in offering such meager resistance, so little banging, such weak play. This is Indiana. It wasn't constructed to play a finesse game and it isn't beating the Heat without mucking it up.
So there, in a near-silent room on Monday, the casual play that kept flashing across the screen just added to the misery. It's one thing to trail the Heat in a series. It's another to watch yourself trail without throwing a punch.
"It was humiliating," Paul George said.
"Embarrassing," Tyler Hansbrough said.
"We were sick," David West said.
Vogel barely said a word. It wasn't necessary. The pictures did the talking. The players' pride did the listening. And Indiana brought a simple resolve into Game 4 on Tuesday night. They would either even this series up 2-2 or get pushed to the brink, but either way it wouldn't be without a fight, shoulders square, elbows up.
"Oh yeah," smiled West. "Oh yeah."
Indiana 99, Miami 92, series squared, Pacers' personality restored.
This here was a street fight, Indiana pounding the ball inside to utilize its height and slamming everything in sight on the defensive end to lean on their physical toughness and depth. Almost nothing came easy for Miami.
The storyline of LeBron just dominating in the post was over – he went just 1 of 6 down there. The visions of Chris Andersen swooping in for uncontested follow-ups around the basket were gone – Birdman didn't even attempt a shot. Indiana had a 50-32 advantage in the paint. It had a 49-30 edge on the boards.
"We can't afford to get beat on the glass by 20," LeBron said. "Can't happen."
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Mostly, Miami was forced into the kind of physical battle that makes them vulnerable. "We took away their air space," Lance Stephenson said.
The game was so intense that the refs had a difficult time calling it – blowing numerous calls on both sides. The Heat's starters were saddled with foul trouble and LeBron, often getting stuck guarding bigger men, fouled out for just the second time ever in a playoff game.
It was a tractor pull of beauty for the Pacers.
"Guys just did a good job fighting," West said.
For West, perhaps more than anyone, this was personal. He'd fumed Sunday that the Pacers hadn't laid into the Heat, had backed down and given space. They know how talented Miami is. They know how otherworldly LeBron can be. They understand that they're the underdogs. They heard nearly every analyst declare the series all but over.
"We know they're the champs," said Roy Hibbert, who had 23 points and 12 rebounds. "We know we're going to be fighting an uphill battle."
[Video: LeBron James swats George Hill's lay-up attempt]
That much they can accept. West is one of the toughest players in the NBA though, a tough guy on a roster full of them. Hibbert. Hansbrough. It's all the same. Losing to LeBron is one thing. Rolling over is another.
That's why Vogel just let the tape tell the story, let the humiliation sink in. He's built a mentality here, attracted players to fit it. This wasn't the time to change a team's personality. It just needed a reminder of what it was. Sometimes the best coaching comes from what isn't said.
"We just watched," West said. "There was literally no resistance, the ball went from one side to the other and then down to the post to LeBron."
"We didn't box out," Hill said. "We let Chris Andersen get easy put-backs. We allowed LeBron to go one-on-one in the post. [Udonis] Haslem and [Chris] Bosh had a lot of uncontested jump shots."
It took only a few minutes for everyone to agree that this would end. The tape went on anyway, pounding the message home. "It was glaring," Hill said.
So they promised to guard every inch of the court, to make every step difficult to make, to contest each pass, each possession. Stephenson even asked to guard James at times, one of many waves of Pacers thrown at him. He wound up missing 10 of his 18 shots.
By the end of the night, across the Pacers locker room, there were ice bags on knees and smiles on faces.
"We saw the resolve tonight," Vogel said.
And it isn't going anywhere, the Pacers promise.
"We're never going to give up," Hibbert said.
Series squared, personality restored, fists clenched, elbows up … Indiana is coming again, looking to dethrone a King their way. The hard way.
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