Before Indiana's 91-77 Game Six victory over Miami to force a decisive Game Seven on Monday, Frank Vogel said David West (nursing an injury) told him not to stop the fight. Like Apollo Creed against Ivan Drago, even if he was about to die, he wanted the fight to go on. Pride, country and Rocky Balboa were all in his corner depending on him.
Maybe not all those things. But West had a lot riding on the line for himself and his team as Indiana faced elimination for the first time this postseason and Miami seemed set to get to the Finals and four wins away from their title defense.
The Pacers continue to defy the experts, the public and take down the Ivan Dragos of the world.
Miami has the brash, the bravado, the championship rings and maybe James Brown singing "Living in America." What the Heat do not have is size and toughness on the inside. Their goal in this series against the Pacers was to get them running and spread them out with their 3-point shooters and cutters.
What they could not happen is what had happened in two losses previous and then again in Game Six.
Indiana got 24 points and 11 rebounds from Roy Hibbert and 11 points and 14 rebounds from David West, anchoring that inside presence from Indiana that has stifled Miami throughout the series in Miami's now three losses. The Pacers outrebounded the Heat 53-33 including 15-9 on the offensive glass. Indiana had a 44-22 advantage in the paint. Miami shot 36.1 percent from the floor.
More importantly for the Heat, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh shot 4 for 19 combined and scored a total of 15 points. That will not cut it for the Heat if they want to win Game Seven. LeBron James (29 points, 7 rebounds, six assists, 10/21 field goals) can only do so much by himself.
And that goes double against a great defensive team like Indiana.
The bottom line is the Heat are relying too much on James because they cannot get into the paint with Wade or defend the glass. Their inability to stretch the defense has played into the Pacers hands. They are beating them up in the paint.
Miami has not been able to make 3-pointers this series and that has made things even more difficult for the defending champs. Indiana has pounded the ball inside and just gone after Miami at the champs' very point of weakness.
For the first time this series, the Pacers looked like they were the dominant team. Not even James could bring the Heat back from the point of collapse.
Now that they have tied the series, Indiana's size stands 48 minutes away from the NBA Finals. They have as good a chance as the Heat and there is no arguing with it now. Indiana can battle in the paint and get easy points if they dominate the glass. More often than not this series they are doing that.
The Heat have one game to figure this out or their reign is over.
And no one will throw in the towel for them if they cannot.
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