Throwing away home-court advantage is nothing new for the Indiana Pacers.
They did it in each of the previous two playoff rounds. They recovered both times.
Now, having lost the home-court edge yet again, the top-seeded Pacers will have to do it a third time to win the Eastern Conference Finals.
Only this time, the challenge is exceedingly more difficult.
The Miami Heat, after all, are not the Atlanta Hawks or the Washington Wizards. They are two-time defending NBA champions who, by virtue of Tuesday’s 87-83 Game 2 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, now have home-court edge in the best-of-seven series that is knotted 1-1.
Games 3 and 4 are Saturday and Monday in Miami. The Pacers will have to take one of those, or a Game 6 on the road, and not lose again at home to take the series.
Such is the maddening fate for a No. 1 seed that has taken little advantage of home-court advantage.
“Obviously, they played a little bit better, more precise than we did down the stretch,” said Pacers forward David West, referring to a disjointed fourth-quarter effort that allowed the Heat to rally for the Game 2 win. “But we’re confident in our ability to win on the road, particularly in the playoffs.”
Fortunately for the Pacers, they have fared far better on the road than at home throughout the postseason. They are 4-5 on their home floor but are 5-1 away from the fieldhouse.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, Miami has been efficient on the road and at home throughout the postseason. The Heat are 9-2 overall in the playoffs are 5-0 on their home floor.
Yet surrendering home court to the Heat might not be the worst of the Pacers’ problems.
All-Star forward Paul George, who claimed to have briefly “blacked out” following a fourth-quarter collision with Miami’s Dwyane Wade, was diagnosed with a concussion Wednesday morning and might not play in Game 3.
Although he finished the game after receiving a blow to the head from Wade’s knee, George must undergo the NBA-mandated protocol for “return-to-participation,” according to a statement from the Pacers. The league’s concussion policy states, among other conditions for playing, that: “The concussed player may not return to participation until he is asymptomatic at rest and has successfully completed the NBA concussion return-to-participation exertion protocol.”
But even if George is cleared to play, the Pacers — who were poised to go up 2-0 before collapsing in the final eight minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday — have a daunting task having to pick up a win at Miami. And if they do, they still have to protect home court, which they haven’t done throughout the playoffs.
“That’s just how it is. We expected it to be a long series,” Indiana center Roy Hibbert said. “They’re a good team. We didn’t expect to sweep them. It just goes with the territory.”
To regain control of the series, the Pacers must find a way to avoid the ball-handling mistakes and cold shooting that plagued them in Game 2. Turnovers at critical times in the second half were costly, especially on a night when they shot only 40 percent from the field.
By comparison, the Heat shot 50 percent from the floor and got big fourth-quarter performances from LeBron James and Wade, who combined for Miami’s final 20 points. Wade finished with 23, and James had 22. Norris Cole was the only other Miami player in double figures with 11 off the bench.
Indiana had all five starters in double figures, including a career playoff-high 25 for Lance Stephenson, but missed too many shots and committed too many errors in the closing minutes to take what would have been a commanding 2-0 series lead.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” said West, who had 10 points. “They hit another gear. They were very timely in their traps and their pressure. If forced us into some tough, tough possessions. We can’t have those turnovers, particularly late, that we gave up.
“I thought it was our game. I thought we had an opportunity to really put them under the gun, so to speak, but we’ve got to be able to handle their pressure and handle those moments.”
Their next opportunity to seize the moment is Saturday. West is confident they can and will do it.
“We’ve got to play a better basketball game, particularly in Game 3,” West said. “But our confidence is not going to wane in terms of who we are and what we feel like we can accomplish.”