Many have tried and all have failed...
- The 2012 Boston Celtics, an intensely passionate collection of Hall of Famers making one last unexpected run at glory.
- The 2013 Indiana Pacers, a physical, defense-first roster composed of wide-eyed, hungry up-and-comers.
- The 2013 San Antonio Spurs, a quiet, no-nonsense group of savvy veterans representing the latest chapter of a dynasty spanning three decades.
Though they may deviate in terms of experience, style, and scheme, each of the above mentioned squads has one very telling aspect of their varying playoff histories in common:
All three teams fell victim to Game 7s hosted in Miami.
There is no doubt about it. Since the dawn of the Big Three Era, the Miami Heat, able to boast a devastatingly impressive home playoff record of 35-7, has been nearly unbeatable while surrounded by the comforts of South Beach.
Given the fact that only one team (2011 Dallas Mavericks) has actually ever beaten this modern version of the Heat in the postseason, dethroning the regular season champions is definitely a tall order irregardless of where the majority of the games in a series take place. That being said, Miami posts an 83% playoff win-rate at home. They beat the Indiana Pacers in the ECF at home. They are 3-0 in Game 7s at home.
Clearly, it is for all of these reasons that the Blue and Gold made earning the privilege of potentially hosting a Game 7 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse their top priority during the regular season.
Prior to the All-Star break, Frank Vogel told CBS Sports Radio, "We've got a goal that we're hanging onto right now that's kind of driving us each night, and that's to earn home-court advantage. We think it could be a difference-maker come playoff time against some of these teams."
Is home-court advantage really a "difference-maker" for the Pacers?
Since LeBron took his talents to South Beach, Miami has had home-court advantage in every playoff series except two. In both instances, first against the 2012 Chicago Bulls and then against the 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder, the Heat found themselves in a 0-1 hole on the road. Nevertheless, following each Game 1 defeat, they then went on to win the next four games, subsequently earning the gentleman's sweep in both series.
Despite Miami's prior successes against teams with home-court advantage, they do post a slightly more pedestrian 55% win-rate in the playoffs when tasked with playing the role of the visitor.
As for the Pacers, at 35-6, they posted the league's best home record during the regular season. Four months ago (emphasis on four months ago), Paul George was interviewed by Showtime's Jim Rome and had the following to say about the importance of home-court advantage:
"I mean, we know how well we play at home. We're one of the best teams in the postseason last year defending our home court. We just know how big home-court advantage is when it comes down to postseason."
It is, of course, important here to emphasize that the Pacers were one of the best teams in the postseason "last year" at defending home-court.
Since the start of the 2014 postseason, Indiana has already lost four of their seven games hosted at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. However, just 21-20 on the road during the regular season, perhaps there is a silver-lining to be found amidst the Pacers' recent home-court struggles:
Pacers have won five road games in a single postseason for the first time in NBA franchise history. Road team was 5-1 in the IND-WAS series.— Scott Agness (@ScottAgness) May 16, 2014
While it may still be premature to tag Indiana with the "road warrior" label, it is certainly reassuring that the Pacers no longer have to rely on the comforts of home in order to advance in the post-season. Instead, with their backs against the wall and their season on the line, they have shown - even while dealing with hostile fan bases- that they are capable of winning a Game 6 in Atlanta or Washington.
Despite Indiana's newly discovered competence as the "away team," it should be noted that the home-team has walked away the victor in 12 of the last 14 match-ups between the Pacers and Heat.
Consequently, the Blue and Gold cannot afford to just give away another Game 1, as they did against both the Hawks and Wizards in their prior two series. Especially since it should be assumed that Roy Hibbert's straight-ups, as he fondly terms his signature defensive technique, will likely be officiated more liberally in Indiana than in the Anti-Verticality capital of the world (otherwise known as South Beach).*
Despite all the facts about Miami's 83% home win-rate, Indiana's franchise record-breaking road-win total in a single post-season, or the potential impact of the subjective nature of properly officiating the law of verticality, only two factors really stand-out as significant when it comes to determining the importance of home-court advantage:
1) The Indiana Pacers (16-14) and Miami Heat (17-14) were both only slightly above .500 post All-Star break.
2) The Miami Heat is 3-0 in Game 7s taking place on their home floor.
It is possible for a team to play .500 basketball and still advance to the NBA Finals, as long as said NBA team is able to walk away with a "W" in a series-clinching Game 7. If the Pacers manage to last six games against the two-time reigning champions, well then, a pivotal Game 7 taking place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse might just be the all-important "difference-maker" the Pacers were criticized for believing it could be all season.
*[Although not a significant disparity, during the 2013 ECF, Roy Hibbert averaged 4.25 fouls in Miami versus 3.6 fouls per game in Indianapolis. Conversely, LeBron attempted 8.5 free throws per game in South Beach (Note: LBJ attempted 16 free throws in Game 7) in comparison to his 6.7 freebie attempts in Indiana].