He might not be right, and it might be an overreaction, but in the words of Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "you knew Larry Bird wasn't going to sit this one out." In the hours following Indiana's Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat, in a physical affair that saw the Pacers blown out while taking in the two nastiest of the three flagrant fouls doled out on the evening, the Pacers president and 2012 NBA Executive of the Year called his team "soft," in a short discussion with Indianapolis Star beat writer Mike Wells following the game.
And, if there was any confusion, Bird spelled the word out. Here's Wells' brief, but impactful discussion with the pissed-off Hall of Famer:
What follows here is where we start wondering what, exactly, the NBA legend wanted his Pacers to do.
Should he have expected the team and coach Frank Vogel to improve upon the squad's unimpressive offensive showing in the second half of Sunday's Game 4? To come out and show some patience as the Heat swung correctly, fronted the post, and put the onus on the Pacers players to both make shots and create plays?
Did he expect his team to not be out-rebounded by 14 to a Heat crew that has issues on the glass? Or to attempt to take hits in transition as a way of getting to the free-throw line? Or maybe run the Heat off of the 3-point line as they sent up some long bombs once the game was long decided in the fourth quarter?
Or did he want the team to respond, as Miami "responded," to the Heat's vicious flagrant fouls? Because that would have been stupid, if we're honest; and Bird's take would have come off as more of a response of a frustrated fan and team employee and boss and someone who cares quite a bit in the wake of an embarrassing loss that he had to sit through in public amongst Miami fans.
And not the response of someone who had really thought things through.
Because, if you'll allow us this guess and false premise, if Bird was hoping one of his players would send another flagrant shot at a member of the Heat, then he's to be dismissed.
Why? Because Pittman's foul happened with 19 seconds left in the game, and no real chance for the Pacers to needlessly retaliate while they were getting their tails kicked. And prior to that, after Haslem gave what should have been ruled a Flagrant 2 (and ejection) on Pacer forward Tyler Hansbrough in retaliation for Hansbrough's hit on Dwyane Wade, the Pacers didn't exactly have a lot of live bodies to start wielding elbows that could get them suspended for Game 6, or at the very least ejected in Game 5.
Did he want Paul George, with Danny Granger in the locker room with a sprained ankle, to take a shot?
Or Roy Hibbert, with David West nursing a sprained knee, to risk suspension as things escalated?
Or Hansbrough or Lou Amundson, who will be relied upon as much as ever in Game 6, to risk punishments handed out by a sometimes-emotional NBA front office?
Were one of the team's several undersized guards? George Hill, Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa were supposed to lay wood?
This is why we wonder if Bird was only referring to the team's style of play. Which even, to us, seems slightly off.
Because the Pacers didn't exactly play soft in Game 5, but they did play (sorry) stupidly at times. The team showed little resolve in the face of Miami's defense, didn't come up with counters in their offensive sets on the fly, and didn't think on its collective feet as Miami covered ground in the half court. Miami didn't kick Indiana's butt in Game 5 because the Heat were the big, bad bully. They won because the Pacers didn't adapt. They didn't evolve. And they didn't score, which led to Miami endlessly dashing to the other end of the court for fast break buckets.
The Pacers, to these non-Hall of Fame eyes, screwed a lot of things up in Game 5. But playing "soft" didn't appear to have much to do with any part of that eventual 32-point deficit.
It's Larry Bird's team, though. And Larry Bird's state, and Larry Bird's game. At this point, he's just about earned the right to call his team whatever he wants.
And then spell it out.
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