Every single relevant Eastern Conference team except the Bulls were in action Wednesday night, with the biggest game of the evening occurring at Bankers Life Fieldhouse between the Pacers and Heat. But much more on them in a bit.
First, the Raptors took back the No. 3 seed from the Bulls thanks to a 99-90 victory over the Celtics. Both the Raptors and Bulls have an identical 40-31 mark, but if the playoffs started today, Toronto would get the No. 3 seed because they lead the Atlantic Division.
Elsewhere, both the Nets and Wizards lost a second game in a row, so the Raptors and Bulls have a little cushion in their respective spots. The Nets are now 2½ games behind the Raptors and Bulls due to an overtime loss to the Bobcats, who are all but certain to make the playoffs at this point. The Wizards lost at home to the Suns and are just 4-6 in their last 10 games.
At the bottom of the East playoff race, the Knicks are still somehow alive because the Hawks apparently don't want anything to do with the postseason. The Hawks lost their fourth straight game, while the Knicks rebounded from their debacle against the Lakers to beat the Kings. The Hawks are just two games ahead of the Knicks, although New York is three back in the loss column.
Don't completely count out the Cavs, who beat the Pistons on a buzzer-beater by Dion Waiters (Waiters has been really good without Kyrie Irving...hmmmm). The Cavs are 3½ back of the Hawks, but five back in the loss column, so still a huge long shot.
And then there was Heat vs. Pacers. #BeastsOfTheEast or whatever the hell ESPN wanted to hype the game up as.
Both teams, and especially the Pacers, entered the game in a bit of a slump, but it was Indiana who came out on top in a rugged 84-83 game after Chris Bosh airballed a potential game-winning jumper. The Pacers were helped by a bailout David West three (which he traveled on) to win and secure the Central Division crown.
The game pretty much played out as expected. It was slow, it was physical and there were plenty of bricks. It also re-affirmed to me just how much I hate both of these teams, with the Pacers quickly catching up to the Heat on my detestability scale. These are basically my feelings toward both of these teams:
So where do I begin?
From what I've seen lately, the Pacers almost seem like they're trying to be the Heat. The incessant whining. The flopping. All of it.
I really want to address the flopping thing, because it's kind of humorous. After the Bulls lost in Indy last week, Taj Gibson, who fouled out, accused the Pacers of being floppers. Gibson can be an annoying whiner himself, but while he probably deserved most of his fouls, he wasn't necessarily incorrect about the flopping.
Before the rematch on Monday, Roy Hibbert defended his team by saying they didn't flop. In that very game, Hibbert flopped after getting hit in the head by Noah (a clear foul, however), leading to Jo retweeting this:
Then last night, I saw several clear flops by the "no flopping" Pacers, most notably by Paul George and Lance Stephenson. Here's an egregious one from George:
There was plenty of other silliness, much of it surrounding Stephenson and noted jamoke Dwyane Wade. First, the pair got tangled up on a play in the third quarter, and Stephenson felt the need to get up in Wade's face:
The scrum resulted in a double-technical for the two players, but that was nothing compared to the absurdity (and hilarity) of what would happen later.
In the fourth quarter, Stephenson sliced through the Heat defense for a layup to put the Pacers up four with five minutes to go. Like an idiot, Stephenson mean-mugged and said something to Wade, leading to one of the greatest troll jobs of all-time:
JUST LOOK AT THIS! Wade knows exactly what he's doing here, grinning at Stephenson before crying foul to the officials and basically forcing a technical, which got Stephenson ejected from the game. Would Stephenson have been ejected if Wade didn't make such a show? We'll never know the answer, and although this GIF still has me crying laughing, the whole situation was just absurd.
And here's what Wade said after the game, per Joe Goodman of the Miami Herald:
"It's physical. There's a dislike," Wade said. "I don't really play those games that Lance plays, so the refs took care of it. They did a good job."
Of course he said that. But while Wade may have thought the refs did a good job, a couple of his teammates didn't seem to think so. First, we have Bosh, per Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel:
"It wasn't really that physical," Bosh deadpanned. "Our guys are getting punched in the face, man. You know what I'm saying?
"If you can come down and clothesline somebody, it's open season, man. People are going to get hurt."
Then there's LeBron, who took a few flagrant fouls that were ultimately rescinded and was himself whistled for a flagrant for elbowing Hibbert in the face on a drive (definitely NOT a flop by Hibbert...dude was hammered). Here's what LeBron thought about this:
Of two reviews going against him and then his foul being ruled flagrant, James said, "Of course I'm surprised, but it is what it is. They ref the game and we play it."
"Me and Blake Griffin, we take some hard hits. They call it how they want to call it."
He said he doesn't expect further sanction.
"If I can jump up in the air and elbow someone in the face and finish a play, I must be a kung-fu master," he said.
With the Pacers' victory, they moved three games ahead of the Heat at the top of the East. That's a nice little cushion, although the differential in the loss column is just two and there's one more game in Miami. So it's still up in the air.
At any rate, I despise both of these teams and would love the chance to knock one or both of them out of the postseason. It's a total long shot, of course, but I'm feeling a lot better about the Bulls' chances against the Pacers and the Heat could be a Wade injury away from being in serious trouble. Wade did suffer a hamstring injury at the end of the game on Wednesday, but it was just a cramp.
Here are the full East standings:
|New York Knicks||30||42||22|