By CLIFF BRUNT
Tyler Hansbrough and Lance Stephenson might have dropped the two biggest assists for the Pacers in their second-round series against Miami.
By hammering Dwyane Wade in Game 5, the kind of foul Jeff Foster was famous for, Hansbrough turned Miami into a team that felt it needed to prove its toughness. Udonis Haslem retaliated with a brutal foul against Hansbrough that got him suspended for Thursday’s Game 6.
With the Heat leading the series 3-2, Miami needed Haslem. The power forward all but won Game 4 for the Heat with his timely mid-range jumpers. Without him, Miami is further depleted after losing All-Star forward Chris Bosh in Game 1.
As for Stephenson, it’s questionable whether a bench player should be putting up a choke sign when LeBron James, the three-time MVP, is at the free-throw line. However, Dexter Pittman’s response, a hard foul in the final minute of Game 5, got him a three-game suspension. Pittman is a center, a big body on a team that lacks them. That means Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony can’t afford to get into foul trouble on Thursday, and chances are, they will. Anthony averages a foul per 10 minutes played in the playoffs and has finished with four fouls twice in the series. Turiaf has twice committed four fouls in a game during the series, despite playing fewer than 15 minutes in each case. And they still have to deal with 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert. Pacers forward David West says he’s OK after spraining his left knee on Tuesday, so Miami is clearly overmatched in the post. Hibbert, an All-Star who got votes for the All-NBA team, is set up to have another performance like his Game 4 outburst of 19 points and 18 rebounds.
So, agree with their actions or not, Hansbrough and Stephenson, without scoring a basket, might have extended the series.