When the sun comes up Thursday, the Pacers will be down 1-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat. They will wrestle with the fact that they had a chance to steal a game in Miami, capture homecourt advantage, and turn the basketball world on its head. Instead, LeBron James made a layup, Frank Vogel benched Roy Hibbert for the final two possessions, and now they deal with the sinking feeling in their stomachs of regret.
The Heat won, and the way our messed up storyline-construction brains work, this means that the Heat have all the momentum, the Pacers blew it, and since they gave up a golden opportunity, it's over. That was their chance, and it's gone.
And that's a little bit insane.
This idea that losing one of the first two games on the road to a higher seed is devastating is absurd. Here's what the Pacers came away with on Wednesday: proof that they can drag the mighty Heat into their kind of game, their style of game, that they can pressure the Heat into sloppy play and make this close down the stretch. The Pacers want the game in the low 90's going into the final minute of regulation. They want an opportunity for their defense to close out. It didn't. But that was the opening salvo of this series. The Pacers controlled three of five quarters in Game 1.
They lost. Know why? The Heat are the best team in the league. But if you want a blueprint of success for Indiana that doesn't involve LeBron returning to his home planet, this is what you go with. Ugly the game, make some clutch plays, get a big game from David West, control the glass (though they were beat on the offensive boards), and have it come down to forcing a LeBron James jumper.
Only they didn't. And that's what they'll be asking themselves about. But can the Pacers force that the next time if the situation arises? Absolutely.
They know how to attack Miami. And their approach will be to wear them down over six games. They blew an opportunity, but they showed they are ready to take it to Miami. They are not afraid. They are not shellshocked. They are not inferior. Miami was better in Game 1, by the hair on their chins. Indiana is in this thing, and it's a seven-game series for a reason.
Could Miami respond, make adjustments, run the Pacers out in four games? It's not only possible, it's highly possible. The Heat are the better team, have an incredible coach, smart players to make adjustments, and the best player on the planet. But the Pacers have a good gameplan to counter Miami's schemes, good players to match up with the Heat, and the right attitude to take it to the champs.
Miami has the advantage, as they should, being the better team with homecourt advantage after Game 1.
But even in a sport where overreacting to Game 1 is never a good idea, it's especially flawed in this case.
The Pacers are right there. It's a matter of closing a game of inches as to whether they can turn the upset from an idea into a reality.