Like most of the right-minded basketball-loving public, the minute the Knicks lost to the Heat in Game Five, we switched our allegiance to "whatever team is playing the Heat." There are always logical arguments as to why the consistent vitriol — and it has been almost two years' worth of vitriol now — is misplaced, why the LeBron James–as-villain trope isn't exactly fair or justified ... but who wants to hear that? The story of the NBA for the next however many years is "When, if ever, will LeBron James get his title?" so the longer it takes for that to happen, the more everyone can feel better about turning on LeBron so dramatically in the first place. The Heat took a big step toward prolonging that story line last night.
The Indiana Pacers, a team the Knicks beat twice on successive nights earlier this year, went into Miami and beat the Heat 78–75 last night, tying their series and swinging momentum, home-court advantage, and that general sense of wait-are-the-Heat-going-to-do-this-AGAIN? in their direction. Like all Eastern Conference playoff games this year, it was an ugly victory, a low-scoring, poor-shooting, free-throw-missing endeavor, but those are precisely the type of games the Heat can lose; after all, that's the way they lost their one game to the Knicks.
Of course, the Heat's loss to the Knicks came at the Garden, after Miami already had a 3-0 lead. The Pacers are in a far preferable position, now tied, with Miami missing Chris Bosh the rest of the series. Last night it was more clear than ever that the Heat have two players and that's pretty much it. Those two players might be among the best five in the world, but they are still only two. Meanwhile, the Pacers run seven deep, and they're already wearing down LeBron and Dwyane Wade; LeBron was panting by the end of the game, which might have had something to do with the two key free throws he missed.
Game Three of the series, back in Indianapolis, is Thursday night, and Bosh isn't going to get any more healthy between now and then. The Heat might still win this series, but right now, they look extremely vulnerable; LeBron cannot, in fact, do it all himself. Is it time to be a Pacers fan, Knicks fans? It's easier than cheering for the Celtics, anyway.