Before the start of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel had to reiterate to LeBron James that the Heat weren't just another team.
Four games into the series, James and the Miami Heat understand the Pacers -- the team James and Company vanquished in the playoffs last season -- aren't just another team, either.
"Our guys rose to the challenge," Vogel said of the Pacers evening the series 2-2 with a 99-92 victory in Indianapolis on Tuesday. "Our defense returned to form."
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was flabbergasted by what were perceived as errors -- by his team and officials -- as a four-point deficit ballooned in the final minute when James fouled out and Wade was called for traveling on the next possession.
"We pride ourselves on closing out games, and we weren't able to," Spoelstra said.
Now the matchups and adjustments for Game 5 have become predictable, with each coach putting his cards on the table in three tightly contested games and a Game 3 blowout victory by the Heat.
Based on media questions to players after Game 3, many had written off the Pacers. For example, Heat forward Chris Bosh went into great detail on what it might be like opposing idol Tim Duncan in the Finals. But looking ahead to future challenges, such as defending Tony Parker or matching up with the San Antonio Spurs' big men, is a sure road to defeat, a reminder Miami's coach delivered again Tuesday.
"We have our hands full," Spoelstra said. "If we're thinking about San Antonio, our minds are absolutely on the wrong thing."
Indiana isn't built around household names of superstars. Paul George, the team's top scorer in the regular season and the NBA's Most Improved Player, scored just 12 points in Tuesday's victory. Center Roy Hibbert (23 points, 12 rebounds in Game 4) and forward David West are proving thorny matchups for Miami, and loose cannon Lance Stephenson had multiple brilliant moments in crunch time, too.
"Not one guy in that locker room didn't believe we we're going to win this game tonight," Hibbert said. "We showed fortitude and we picked each other up. We never held our heads down. We know they're the champs. They're one of the best teams in the NBA right now. We know we're going to be fighting an uphill battle. We're never going to give up. We're relentless."
Of course, the Heat aren't known as just another team, and for good reason.
"You have to overcome a lot in the playoffs," Spoelstra said. "It's not easy to compete for a title. So we just went to other guys, and end of the day we still had an opportunity."