Desperation is nothing new for the Indiana Pacers.
They faced it, to varying degrees, in the first two rounds of the playoffs and survived each time.
And now here they are again, in the Eastern Conference Finals, gripped in a desperate situation that transcends mere desperation.
They are, in a sense, in need of a miracle.
All the same, they expect to conjure one despite trailing the Miami Heat 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Game 6 is tonight in American Airlines Arena, where the two-time defending NBA champion Heat are unbeaten in the postseason. A Pacers win would set up a Game 7 on Sunday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they would have an improbable opportunity to take the series.
Only eight teams in league history have ever rallied from 3-1 deficits to win a series. The Pacers, coming off Wednesday’s 93-90 Game 5 home win, are trying to become the ninth.
“We have to go and basically do the impossible, which is go down there and beat them in front of an unbelievable crowd with unbelievable energy, and knowing that LeBron (James) is going to come back and try to respond,” said Pacers forward David West, who had 19 points and nine rebounds in Game 5. “We’ve got an ultimate challenge in front of us.
“I think guys are up for it.”
All-Star teammate Paul George, coming off a 37-point performance, agrees.
“We’re going against history, but we can’t feel like it can’t be done,” said George, who had 21 points in the fourth quarter to help suppress a furious Heat rally. “Every player in our locker room, every trainer, every coach, everybody in this organization have to feel like we can accomplish this.
“And we believe.”
At the very least, the Pacers kept hope alive in the first of potentially three elimination games.
On a night when foul trouble limited Heat star James to a career-playoff-low seven points, and backup center Chris “Birdman” Andersen missed his second straight game with a deep thigh bruise, the top-seeded Pacers did just enough to extend their season at least one more game.
Led by George and West, four of Indiana’s starters reached double figures, and the Pacers outrebounded Miami 45-38 and forced 17 turnovers.
That was the good news.
The bad news was, despite their disjointed play, their star player being neutralized and their backup center being out, the Heat — who trailed by 11 with 8:53 to play — still had a chance to win on the final play.
With Indiana leading 92-90, Chris Bosh’s 3-point attempt with 2.9 seconds left bounced off the rim. West grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made one of two free throws to seal the result.
Moreover, the Pacers were only 13 of 22 at the free-throw line and received only six points from their bench — all from Luis Scola.
“We just survived and got an opportunity to play another game,” West said. “That’s all we talked about (Wednesday), trying to get a win and go from there and start preparing for the next one.”
The next one, however, is not only on the road, its against an angry opponent that is counting on a dramatically different night from James.
Plagued by foul trouble early in Game 5, James picked up his fifth with 8:43 in the third quarter. He played only 24 minutes; was 2 of 10 from the field; and was outscored by every teammate in the starting lineup.
But James might have more on his mind than redemption.
Guarded primarily by Lance Stephenson, who earlier Wednesday apologized for taunting remarks directed at the Heat superstar, James received a physical taunt when Stephenson blew in his ear in the fourth quarter.
James downplayed the incident but will no doubt keep it in mind tonight as the Heat attempt to close the series.
“I’m just hear to play basketball, man. All the extracurricular activities, I don’t really get into,” James said. “I mean, we’re just trying to win. We need one more game to get to the (NBA) Finals. That’s my only concern. We put ourselves in a position to win (Wednesday), and as competitors, as professionals, that’s what we are.
“At the end of the day, we put ourselves in a position to win. All the extra, whatever Lance wants to deal with, I don’t really care about that.”
So here the Pacers are, in another desperate situation — heightened by venue, vengeance and the specter of another elimination game, should they survive this one.
Mission impossible? They don’t think so.
“We honestly believe we can accomplish this one,” George said. “It’s going to be tough. Like we say, it’s one game at a time. That’s just how we’ve got to treat it.”