Game 5 not a must-win for Indiana Pacers, but a win would be huge

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With this NBA Eastern Conference Semifinal series tied at 2-2, several local news outlets who cover the Indiana Pacers say tonight’s Game 5 in Miami is a must-win for the team if it is to win the series and advance to the conference finals.

I don’t quite see it that way myself. I believe the Pacers are far more capable of winning a Game 7 in AmericanAirlines Arena than most want to say they are.

That said, winning tonight would be absolutely huge for Indiana, who then could close it out Thursday at home, writing another wonderful chapter in the comeback of pro basketball in Indianapolis and getting plenty of rest for the next round.

Leading the series 2-1 going into Sunday’s Game 4 in Indy, the Pacers were staring a golden (no pun intended) opportunity to put the Heat in a stranglehold and get three straight opportunities to close the series.

Of course, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren’t about to let that happen. Miami’s two alpha dogs combined for 70 points, 27 rebounds and 15 assists in driving the Heat to a pivotal 101-93 win on the road. It was a bounce-back game of epic proportions for Wade particularly; 22 of his 30 points came in the second half after going three-of-10 in the first half and hitting just two-of-13 throughout the entirety of Game 3.

Even with James and Wade going off and the Pacers’ biggest strength, their frontcourt tandem of center Roy Hibbert and forward David West, missing key minutes with foul trouble, Indiana didn’t succumb until Heat forward Udonis Haslem helped the Big Two close out the game, going a perfect four-of-four down the stretch in the fourth quarter.

So despite Wade finally finding himself and James putting up other-worldly numbers in Game 4, the Pacers have every reason to believe they are still in this series with a legitimate chance to win it.

While they absolutely can expect James and Wade to be effective, it’s as easy as keeping Hibbert and West in the game to man the rim, ensuring they don’t put up those ridiculous numbers.

That also would put a cap on someone like Haslem making so many mid-range jumpers late. Sure, the Heat finally got some help outside the Big Two following forward Chris Bosh’s injury, but can anyone do for Miami what a player like Bosh can do consistently?

Granted, the Pacers have to utilize Hibbert and West effectively. When West has Shane Battier — yes, Shane Battier — he can’t have just eight field-goal attempts, much less go three-of-eight.

George Hill, who in the Pacers’ two series wins established himself as an assassin from 3-point range, cannot go two-of-nine. Darren Collison, in fact, has sparked the point-guard position off the bench.

Danny Granger needs to give the Pacers his typical 15-20 points. Paul George can struggle with on- or off-ball defense, especially if the Pacers’ two bigs get in foul trouble again.

All of those things are well within the Pacers’ capabilities. If they’re as mentally tough as coach Frank Vogel professes they are, they can do that tonight and put themselves in position to close out the series in front of their fans Thursday.

But I think they could do it in a potential Game 7 on Saturday too. Most people want to say they can’t, but they aren’t acknowledging that this Pacers team is every bit as mentally tough as the Heat. Tonight isn’t a must-win for the Pacers by any means.

I’m sure it would be the preferred route of the team, though.

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