MIAMI – There is one simple fact that will come first to mind for the casual prognosticator of the winner-take-all game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Heat have been their recently. The Pacers have not.
The latter hasn’t seen a deciding Game Seven since the 2005 season-and that was a contest to decided who was moving onto the second round. The Pacers won that night in Boston, but not a single player from that team will board the team charter to Miami for this seventh game of the East Finals on Monday night.
“I don’t know. Maybe zero,” is what Frank Vogel said when asked if he’d been apart of a Game Seven before in any capacity in the NBA.
On the opposite end is the scenario is flipped. Miami is just a season removed from a winner-take-all game in the Eastern Conference Finals having faced the Celtics in the same situation last year at American Airlines Arena. After winning Game Six in Boston, the Heat dominated the Celtics in Game Seven on June 9th as Lebron James scored 31 points to lead Miami to a 111-88 win.
That recent bit of experience can’t hurt, right?
“We have confidence in ourselves, we have confidence in our home crowd and we have confidence in facing a do-or-die situation,” said forward Chris Bosh in reference to what is essentially a second-straight Eastern Conference championship game. “We’re here now, let’s see what happens.”
What has so far has been a blow-for-blow exchange between the first and third-seeds in the conference. Both teams have traded wins in the first six games with Miami winning Games One, Three and Five then the Pacers follow suit by winning the following contest.
Saturday’s featured perhaps the best performance by the Pacers against the Heat with a 29-15 quarter aiding the team’s 14-point victory-their most decisive win in the Eastern Conference Final. That’s why the Pacers for the most part disregard their lack of Game Seven experience since they’ve been able to keep things on the level for most of the playoffs.
“It’s one game and we have to approach it like that. Anything can happen,” said forward Tyler Hansbrough of Game Seven. “We just have to go out and play hard and put it all on the court and see what happens.”
Often times that’s not in the opponents favor when they enter Miami’s “White Hot” arena. In the regular season the Heat went 37-4 at American Airlines Arena and have lost just twice in eight tries so far in the playoffs.
“It’s going to get tough in their arena,” said guard Lance Stephenson. “We just have to bring it, play aggressive like how we do at home.”
Playing smart would help too, according to Vogel. Even with the victory last night the Pacers turned the ball over 18 times and in three games in Miami so far Indiana has averaged giving the ball up 16.6 time to Heat inside American Airlines Arena.
The coach also points to Miami’s previous experience in big games and how costly Pacers mistakes could be against a pressure-savvy Heat squad.
“Execution and making more winning plays than them,” said Vogel when asked what it will take to win a Game Seven in Miami. “We have great respect for their culture, their togetherness, their teamwork, their ability to make plays at the rim, their ability to win loose ball battles, their ability to reach that level of greatness.”
Right now, the Heat have struggled to do so outside of MVP James. Dwayne Wade scored just ten points in Game Six and was 3-for-11 from the field while Chris Bosh hit just 1-of-8 shots as he registered just five points. Starting forward Udonis Haslem failed to scored in just 16 minutes of play.
“I believe in my teammates,” said James-who scored a game-high 29 points Saturday-when asked if he felt he would have to carry the load on Monday night. “They are struggling right now, obviously. So they’ve got another opportunity on Monday and I look forward to the challenge. I know they do as well.”
At the cusp of their first NBA Finals berth since 2000, the Pacers hope they might respond to that just a little bit better.
“That’s all that matters,” said guard George Hill of Game Seven. “We know they’re going to come out with a lot of energy and their building is just going to be like this building was tonight. We just have to keep our composure, be aggressive, and the best team will win.”