Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird needed just four letters to describe what he had seen from the Pacers during their loss to the Heat on Tuesday night.
En route to a demoralizing 115-83 defeat in Game 5, the Pacers absorbed dunks, injuries and two particularly violent flagrant fouls.
“I can’t believe my team went soft,” Bird told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. “S-O-F-T. I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.”
Considering that the Pacers are hardly the first team to surrender big games to LeBron James, who was two assists shy of a triple double, and Dwyane Wade, the NBA legend is most likely referring to the team's tepid response to those hard fouls and the way they wilted in the fourth quarter, allowing 39 points.
Flashing a glimpse of how he earned his nickname, Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough actually committed the first hard foul of the night, leveling Heat guard Dwyane Wade as he drove to the basket early in the second quarter.
The foul opened up a cut above Wade's right eye and led to a retaliatory strike from Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who leveled Hansbrough a short while later.
At the time that Hansbrough was issued a flagrant-1 for his foul, the Heat led, 29-25. That lead had stretched to seven points by the time that Hansbrough was sent crashing to the floor by way of Haslem's two-handed response. After the game, Wade joked with reporters when asked about the foul, saying "my face is not the ball."
Wade may want to tell his teammate that Lance Stephenson's head is also not the ball. With the Heat holding a commanding 115-78 lead in the waning seconds of the game and bench players playing out the clock, Miami's Dexter Pittman clotheslined Lance Stephenson as he crashed the basket for a rebound. Pittman seemed to actually leave his feat as he delivered the blow in such a fashion that could either earn him a suspension from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan or a call-up to the WWE from wrestling impresario Vince McMahon.
In the aftermath of Game 5, there were plentiful calls for suspensions for both Haslem and Pittman, who could be seen winking to teammates after his foul. While Haslem's foul on Hansbrough appeared to be a straightforward act of retaliation it also seemed that Pittman was settling a score for the Heat. Stephenson was caught on camera mocking LeBron for choking after missing a technical free throw in Game 3. Although he was visibly shaken up on the play and reportedly underwent x-rays on his shoulder, Stephenson went on Twitter on Wednesday to let everyone know he was fine, tweeting "Pittman got me good. My shoulder feel like its broke but I'm ok everyone let's go Pacers game 6."
Despite his disappointment with the Pacers' performance in Game 5, Bird must be hoping that his team scores the most meaningful form of vengeance, eliminating the Heat from the playoffs.
"I've been with Larry since I've been in Indiana for seven years," Pacers star Danny Granger told The Associated Press. "He's not been one to hold his tongue, and 99 percent of the time what he's saying is right. I think he just called out what everyone else saw. We played a soft game. We didn't play with the playoff intensity that we needed to win."
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