INDIANAPOLIS -- This is how maddening and frustrating the Indiana Pacers are: Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, I desperately wanted Chris Bosh's last-second, baseline 3-pointer to fall. I wanted this series and this season over.
These schizophrenic Pacers are torture.
A Pacers logo adorns the welcome mat at my front door. An autographed Reggie Miller jersey greets visitors as they enter my Los Angeles apartment. I've loved the Pacers for 40-plus years. I've loved rooting against the Heat for four years.
I'm afraid Wednesday's victory is going to prolong the denial, the false belief that these Pacers are some sort of rival to Miami, a legitimate threat to win a championship.
But I'm also afraid the Pacers are going to win Games 6 and 7 and advance to the NBA Finals. This too would be a tragedy, because I have not remotely enjoyed the journey. I've spent the past two months hate-watching my favorite team, wondering why Roy Hibbert is soft, Paul George is immature, Lance Stephenson is a troll, Frank Vogel commands no respect and George Hill is an NBA starter.
What's the point of winning 56 games, securing the No. 1 seed in the East and making it to the final four if it creates zero joy, if it inspires little championship swagger?
For three years, it looked as if the Pacers were building toward something big and unforgettable. We were the little-market team that could get it done for about $67 million per year. And now it feels as if we were all delusional. This isn't a championship roster. This is the ninth-best team in the West. This is a team with no superstar and no leadership.
Oh, I know. Paul George scored 31 points in the second half Wednesday night. He was Reggie Miller. Not really. George feasted on Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Ray Allen and LeBron's other fill-ins. Foul trouble limited LeBron's minutes and kept him off George until the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. LeBron couldn't put out George's fire. It was too late.
Game 5 did not tell us anything new about George. He's an occasionally dominant player. He still can't pass. He's still childish. His complaints about officiating after Game 4 were embarrassing, an indication of a troubling lack of self-awareness and basketball IQ. Do not misread George's performance in Game 5. He took full advantage of the sloppy officiating that hampered LeBron James. Give George a cookie. Don't place your championship dreams in his questionable hands.
What level of trouble is Stephenson? On Wednesday night, he looked like a Ron Artest-Stephen Jackson-Jamaal Tinsley Molotov cocktail. He trolled the Heat and the cameras in Game 5. He blew in LeBron's ear. He chest-bumped Wade to the floor. Stephenson interfered with Erik Spoelstra's huddle. Stephenson is burning money. He has the biggest heart on the Pacers' roster and the least amount of self-control. Only a fool would give him a big contract. Signing Stephenson will be a sign of weakness by some NBA franchise.
Two cheap shots in ten minutes. If Stephenson isn't ejected, it's pretty clear one of the bench players is going to take him out.