The Heat will not be facing elimination when it takes the AmericanAirlines Arena court for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday.
But Heat players will do everything they can to convince themselves they will be.
“Game 6,” Chris Bosh said, “is our Game 7” – a thought conveyed by several Heat players.
The Heat still has something of a cushion in this series and the Pacers – down 3-2 – having nothing of the kind.
But the Heat clearly does not want to return to Indiana for Game 7 on Sunday, not after losing eight of its previous 10 games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and certainly not against a team that would be emboldened and supremely confident if it wins Friday to force this series to the brink.
Only eight of 222 teams down 3-1 in a series have rallied to win it. The Pacers, at least publicly, see no reason they cannot be the ninth.
“We're going against history, but we can't feel like it can't be done,” forward Paul George said. “Everybody in this organization has to feel like we can accomplish this. And we believe. We honestly believe we can accomplish this.”
Pacers coach Frank Vogel noted that “we’ve been able to win a road game in each playoff series in the last two years and we have confidence that this series will be the same.”
The Heat can take some comfort that it’s 9-0 at home in potential series-clinching home games in the Big Three era.
“We’re at home to close out a series,” Dwyane Wade said Thursday after a light practice. “That’s the best position to be in, ideal for anyone.”
And there’s this: The odds of LeBron James producing another performance like Wednesday’s are only slightly longer than the chance of snow flurries outside AmericanAirlines Arena before tipoff.
“I do know that guy and I know how he responds,” Wade said. “I know he’s going to put his mark on the game.”
For perspective on how unusual James’ night was, consider:• It marked the first time in his career that he picked up five fouls before the third quarter ended. James, who had five fouls in 24 minutes, went 254 consecutive minutes without a foul last season and once went five regular-season games in a row without being whistled for a foul.
• His seven points were not only one below his previous playoff low, but marked only the second time he has scored in single digits during his four years with the Heat. (His eight-point Finals game against Dallas in 2011 was the other.)
• His 20 percent shooting from the field (2 for 10) was his worst as a member of the Heat. In 152 career playoff games, he has shot worse than that only once: 2 for 18, for Cleveland, against Boston in 2008.
• He combined for more fouls and turnovers (eight) than points (seven) for the first time in his career.
“It was frustrating [Wednesday] night, but it’s old news,” he said. “I move on.”
Said Bosh: “LeBron James coming off a tough game, coming back home in a series clinching situation, I like where we are.”
What’s less clear is whether George can come close to repeating his epic Game 5.
His 21 fourth-quarter points, giving him 37 for the night, were the most by any player facing elimination in a postseason in at least 15 years, and the most points in any quarter of his career.
His 31 points after halftime were seven more than the Heat had allowed any player to score in the second half of a game this season.
According to ESPN’s metrics department, George was 10 for 14 when guarding by Wade, even though Wade often was defending him tightly. By comparison, he shot 2 for 10 in non-transition shot attempts against everybody else.
George said he believes the Pacers can withstand an offensive eruption by James in Game 6, provided others are held in check.
“We're capable of winning the game with LeBron scoring 30 to 40 points,” George said. “It's Rashard Lewis having six threes that we've got to be cautious of. Ray Allen contributing 15 off the bench we've got to be cautious of.”
Despite their uneven play throughout postseason, Indiana is 3-0 when facing elimination in these playoffs.
“We know, with our backs against the wall, we've proved that we can come out,” George said. But “this is definitely different. We're playing against the champions. We like that we’re a team that’s able to go neck and neck with them.”
Bosh’s gut feeling? “We’re going to play the best game of the year” Friday.