The Herald Bulletin
---- — Here's a coin. Toss it. Heads, the Indiana Pacers show up with their A game tonight. Tails, they're a train wreck. That's a reliable a way as any to predict this team.
What a way to wander through the playoffs. Twelve games in, we still don't have a clue what to expect at any given moment. Neither, it would seem, do they. The Miami Heat must be chortling.
Who are these guys? We might need DNA tests to figure out the Pacers, or a good psychoanalyst.
Everyone thought they were back. They're back, all right. Back in Washington for Game 6. Try to confidently predict what happens next. The Pacers are a team that defies description, or explanation.
Write them off as doomed, and they survive.
Question their steel, and they answer with a gem.
But expect them to win, to clinch, to move on . . . put them in a good and comfortable place . . . and they produce a dud.
Tuesday night, for instance. The 102-79 egg they laid would have made the world's biggest omelet.
"More frustrating than concerning," George Hill called it.
Frustrating, perplexing, unfathomable. The Pacers could fill up a thesaurus with their mercurial ways.
The truest words now come from David West, when asked why this keeps happening. "I don't have an answer for that," West said. "We've got to be able to handle these moments."
The Pacers are so good and so impressive. Except when they're not.
There were numbers from Game 5 that no serious championship contender should ever, ever own. Washington's astonishing 62-23 rebounding dominance, for instance. A margin that suggests a team being out-fought, or even worse, out-willed. At home. In a close-out game.
There were words that no serious championship contender should ever, ever have to say.
From West: "We didn't show up tonight. I don't know if we thought we were just going to come in here and these guys would roll over."
From Paul George: "They played desperation basketball, and we played like it was going to be easy."
But this postseason is not going to be easy for the Pacers. Not a day of it. Not with a team that sways, first one direction, then the other.
Still, there are still two reasons to keep calm and carry on. One, Frank Vogel was correct in noting that. "it's one loss, whether you lose by 20-something or you lose by one point." Washington, down 3-2, remains the team with no margin for error. It was Marcin Gortat — fresh off outscoring Roy Hibbert 31-4 and outrebounding him 16-2 — who mentioned, "I have a feeling that we'll feel the pressure at home on Thursday."
And two, though the Pacers have been atrocious when they should have been better, they have yet to be atrocious when they absolutely had to be better. They have not yet had a fatal breakdown. What goes down has always come back up. So far.
"We have to watch the film, watch what we can improve on," George said of the Pacers' pre-Game 6 plans. "It should be glaring."
The Pacers will now get nationally re-ripped, but they're used to the noise. If all else fails, there is always Game 7 at home, a la Atlanta.
But they have lost any chance for rest before the Miami series — if there is a Miami series — and they have opened themselves to new charges.
What does it say that they came home with all the momentum, but trailed by 30 points?
What does it say that they lost only six times in 41 regular season home games, but are 3-4 in the postseason?
What does it say that on what could have been a night of passage, the starting lineup was outscored by Washington's starters 90-48? Or Gortat had three more offensive rebounds than the entire Indiana team?
"We've got to come to the fight," West said. "If we want this series, we're going to have to take it."
But who is this team, really? When the Pacers put away Atlanta and went up 3-1 on Washington, we thought we had some answers. There are no answers. Just today's best guess, which may be totally different tomorrow.