NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Friday, May 30th (All times Eastern)
(1) Indiana Pacers (2-3) at (2) Miami Heat (3-2), 8:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Miami Heat once again have a chance to make history, but this time it will be at home.
The Heat are one win away from becoming the fourth team in NBA history to reach four consecutive finals appearances and all that stands between them and the record books is the pesky Indiana Pacers.
The two teams rekindle the Eastern Conference Finals Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The Boston Celtics made a whopping 10 in a row from 1957-66, then the Los Angeles Lakers turned the trick from 1982-85. The C's did it once again, battling those same Lakers a few times, from 1984-87.
Miami lost the championship in 2011, then won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013. The Heat are a perfect 7-0 in South Beach this postseason and had a chance Wednesday to advance and get plenty of rest before the NBA Finals begin Thursday.
The Pacers weren't ready to call it a season.
Indiana staved off elimination with a 93-90 Game 5 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in one of the most entertaining playoff games in recent memory.
All it took was a Herculean effort from Paul George, a foul-plagued LeBron James and crazy antics from Lance Stephenson, which included, but was not limited to, pinching and blowing in James' ear.
George was magnificent as he scored 31 of his 37 points after the break, including 21 in the fourth quarter.
"I just came out firing. My teammates found me and I got hot," said George, who shot 15-of-28 from the floor. "I felt in rhythm, regardless of who was guarding me. I was just in the zone."
The Heat essentially played the entire second and third quarters without James, who battled foul trouble throughout and finished with a career playoff- low seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.
"It's not something I'm accustomed to," James said of sitting with foul trouble. "I wasn't able to make plays and help our team win."
Then, there was Stephenson.
The wild-card played a pivotal role in Indiana's Game 5 success, despite the silly instance where he blew in James' ear, or when he pinched James' side, or even when he listened in on a small huddle between Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and two of his players.
"Just trying to help my team win, whatever it takes. There's a lot on the line now. Just trying to win games," Stephenson explained.
Lost in the bizarre nature of his ways, Stephenson proved to be a huge catalyst in the Pacers' comeback. Indiana trailed by nine at the half, then ratcheted up the defensive intensity over the final 24 minutes.
Stephenson picked up full court and George manned the passing lanes. They forced turnovers and George finished with six steals. The defensive pressure created easy shots for the Pacers, who scored 31 in the third quarter after posting only 33 in the first half.
A George slam off a steal pushed Indiana's lead to 77-66 early in the final stanza, but nine consecutive Miami points in less than two minutes brought the Heat right back.
Miami never got over the hump -- thanks to George countering nearly every Heat basket with one of his own -- but the visitors closed within 91-90 following Rashard Lewis' sixth 3-pointer with 16 seconds to go.
The Pacers went 1-for-3 from the foul line over the closing seconds and the Heat had a chance for the tie or the lead. James knifed through the lane, encountered Indiana center Roy Hibbert, kicked it out to an open Chris Bosh in the corner.
Bosh missed and the Pacers live to see another day.
"We've been able to win a road game in each playoff series we've been involved in the last two years, and we have a confidence that this series will be the same, that we can go into Game 6 and be able to get a 'W.'" Pacers coach Frank Vogel said after practice Thursday.
The world will likely see a different Heat team on Friday, one with James making an impact and not in warmups.
"He's going to come out and play with a lot of energy. I'm sure he's got a lot built up from not playing much in Game 5," said George.
And despite James' foul woes, the Heat had a good look at a shot to win the game. But, the Heat weren't interested in how close it was without the best player in the world.
"Ain't no moral victories for us. We win or we lose. That's it," said James.
If the Pacers survive, Game 7 would be Sunday in Indianapolis.
05/30 10:26:14 ET