It was less than two weeks ago, just prior to the Eastern Conference Finals. Tons of stories, analyses and #hottakes about the anticipated series between Indiana and Miami were being regurgitated across the basketball blogosphere. And someone (sorry, whomever it was...I honestly can't remember) asked a question that seemed legitimate at the time.
Paraphrasing here but the gist was this: with all the talk that Miami can simply the flip the switch whenever they want, why do we assume Indiana can't do the same?
With the Pacers' season now on life-support, the answer becomes apparent that they simply don't know how.
The legitimacy can be challenged now but at the time it was asked the question was plausible. The Pacers had faced adversity on and off the court but were exactly where they had hoped to be; with home court advantage facing a team they were assembled specifically to beat. They had the defensive capability to harass Miami's potent offense, there were health concerns for the Heat (namely Dwyane Wade) and the Pacers' roster seemed poised to dethrone South Beach's King atop the Eastern Conference throne.
But the games still had to be played and now Indiana has been exposed as frauds and pretenders. Their impending offseason will be rife with speculation, even more questions and doubt, and changes to the roster and front office could blow up these would-be challengers before they reach their season-long goal.
Isn't it funny how a story can change over such a short time? If it was Miami on the other side of the 3-1 series lead, everyone would be discussing LeBron James' suddenly-busy summer travel itinerary and Wade's demise. The league that has held their collective breath for four years in anticipation of the end of Miami's "Big 3" era could finally exhale.
Instead, Miami's looks as strong as ever. Wade has been efficient and brilliant, James has been dominant, and the Heat have closed out games with deadly precision. They're healthy and reasonably rested, having played fewer games than any of the other three playoff teams still in the running. If they move on to a fourth-consecutive NBA Finals by closing out the series on Wednesday, a long layoff is expected before facing San Antonio or Oklahoma City. They have, as expected, flipped the switch when it matters most.
Meanwhile, the Pacers have made more noise off the court than on, talking a good game and backing it up with mediocre play. They were confident to start the season, making their goal for home court public knowledge. That goal was reached but it seems empty and pointless after they lost that advantage in Game 2. Lance Stephenson claims LeBron's talking on the court is a weakness, and then watches meekly while James scores 32 points. Paul George loses touch with reality in a post-game press conference, and you suddenly realize how easily he was allegedly deceived by an online hoax when he sees life through such a distorted lens.
Indiana can still triumph over the rival Heat, historical probability be damned. It's why we watch basketball so religiously in the first place, in the hope that the impossible magically becomes real. It's a slim chance, paper thin given the excellence from James and Wade and the contributions from every Heat player that has seen action in this series. Technically, there's still a chance.
But it seems less likely given the frail mentality of this Pacers team. Maybe it's an offshoot of today's world of instant and constant access, where fans find out every detail of a team (whether off the court or on) and have numerous outlets to dissect them at length. One wonders what would have been made of Wilt Chamberlain's legendary insecurity - or sexual exploits - if social media had existed during his heyday. It's all the more ironic that Pacers big-man Roy Hibbert, trashed publicly for his unpredictable production, has had his face superimposed on one of Chamberlain's most iconic moments.
There's no Ph.D. in Psychology to back up this point, no doctorate proving that it's clear that Indiana just doesn't have the fortitude to challenge Miami. Perhaps the Heat faced the challenges of today's media circus in 2010 and have learned how to shut out the noise four years later.
So Indiana keeps making excuses for their losses instead of making shots and their head coach screams like an immature child instead of leading them to success. Whatever the reasons for their latest collapse, it becomes obvious that the Pacers can only flip the switch if they were given an instruction manual.
And preferably one written in crayon.