INDIANAPOLIS — As the cleaning crew cleaned, as ESPN technicians removed their cables, as the NBA staff packed up for its next playoff stop, the question as Monday night turned into Tuesday morning at AmericanAirlines Arena was whether any would be returning anytime soon.
With a victory in Wednesday’s Game 5 of these Eastern Conference finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Miami Heat not only would punch their ticket to a fourth consecutive NBA Finals, but would not play another home game until June 10, with the Western Conference representative hosting the first two games of the Finals.
With a loss Wednesday in Indiana, it would mean a return to Biscayne Boulevard for a Friday 8:30 p.m. EDT Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers in this best-of-seven series.
“We don’t want to come back with a Game 6,” forward LeBron James said, with the Heat bypassing practice before flying Tuesday. “We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami. But we want to try to close it out.”
If nothing else, the Heat have been efficient this postseason, their 11-2 record the franchise’s best ever 13 games into a postseason, having stood 10-3 through 13 games of their championship runs each of the previous two seasons.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra nonetheless downplayed the closeout angle Tuesday.
“For us,” he said, “I want to focus on trying to get to our best game, not about closing them out, not about moving on, not about any of that. Just compartmentalize, and can we push forward to have our best game of the series?”
With a victory Wednesday, the Heat would become the first team since the 1984-87 Boston Celtics to advance to four consecutive NBA Finals, something Michael Jordan never did with his championship Chicago Bulls, his retirements twice getting in the way.
“We understand the moment,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “We’re never going to say we don’t. But kind of as I said after (Monday’s) game, we also understand that you have to get to four wins before you can move on. So we have to complete that task.
“We feel we’ve been playing good basketball the last three games, and we want to continue that. Especially going here on the road, it’s going to be the toughest game of the series, probably for us.”
The Heat have proven efficient in such moments, 13-3 in playoff-series closeout games since James, Wade and Chris Bosh came together as teammates in the 2010 offseason. It is the league’s best record in such situations over that span, with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 8-4 next best.
“Any time you have an opportunity to close out against a very good team, we want to take care of business and do that,” Bosh said. “For us, I think we get the feel, and we can sense a really important opportunity.
“Obviously, it’s 3-1. We know we can close it out, but it’s going to be a very hostile environment. We’re expecting that. We’re expecting them at their best.”
After dropping the series opener, the Heat won Game 2 to regain homecourt advantage. Now the goal is to limit themselves to the two home games already played.
“I’m pretty sure it is going to be a wild environment,” Heat guard Norris Cole said. “Their backs are against the wall and they’re going to be playing desperate. For us, we’ve been in this situation before.”
The Heat won at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to close out the Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals two years ago, and closed out the Charlotte Bobcats on the road in the first round of these playoffs.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel insists confidence remains.
“Once we lost Game 2, we needed to win one time (in Miami) and then take care of our home court,” he said. “So we had three opportunities to do that. We didn’t do it in Game 3 and 4. Our belief is strong that we’ll go back and get Game 5 and then come back and fight Game 6.”
But he admitted Tuesday his team’s belief did take a blow in Miami.
“I think any time you lose three in a row in the playoffs, it shakes your confidence some,” he said, “but we can’t worry about that.”
For the Pacers, it has been a postseason of adversity, including having to overcome a 3-2 deficit in the first round against the Atlanta Hawks.
“I think that is when we are at our best, when our back is against the wall,” guard George Hill said. “We are going to be home in front of our fans and I’m sure they’re going to be going crazy.
“It could happen. They won three in a row, why can’t we? The good thing is the elimination game is back home, at least for the first one.”
The Heat have not lost three consecutive playoff games since the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics, a series Spoelstra’s team won in seven games. That had Vogel talking Tuesday in the singular.
“We need to win one game,” he said. “That’s all we’re thinking about right now.
“Listen, 3-1 is a tough challenge. We know that. If it’s going to happen, it typically happens when the home team is down 3-1. If we win Game 5, the pressure goes back on them. Then they’ve got to win Game 6. Otherwise, Game 7 is in our building.”
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