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May 17, 2013

LOPRESTI: Hill injury makes Pacers vulnerable — even at home

Indiana can close out Knicks at Bankers Life Fieldhouse tonight

INDIANAPOLIS — Ah, the fickle ways of the NBA playoffs, where flips come with flops, and so many roads have U-turns. One change-everything injury is all it takes. One untimely blow to the head, and the karma.

Which brings us to George Hill’s concussion.

Suddenly, everything is different for the Indiana Pacers. The 3-2 lead over the New York Knicks is tenuous, the momentum is melting, the danger is growing, Game 6 at home Saturday night is absolutely vital.

Overcoming adversity is part of the deal, if you want to stay with the big guys in May. It’s the Pacers’ turn to be the overcomers. Or not.

One loss can do all that? Sure, if it is accompanied by the point guard going to the bench, for who knows how long.  Day to day is the current verdict on Hill, but here’s the thing: Not many days are left in this playoff series.

It was not just Indiana’s defeat in Game 5 that sounded the alarm – really, who didn’t expect the Knicks to win in Madison Square Garden? – but the message.

The Pacers’ offense without Hill produced 19 turnovers, and no assists by the man who replaced him (D.J. Augustin). It had no answers when it needed them, against a New York team that could have been had. The Knicks did not seize Game 5, so much as they survived it.

So an Indiana team built with just the right chemistry suddenly is missing an important ingredient. A BLT sandwich without the tomato. Injuries can ruin an NBA team’s plans and hopes quicker than anything in the spring. Ask the Chicago Bulls. Ask the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In the end, will someone say, ask the Indiana Pacers? All because of Tyson Chandler’s screen on Hill in Game 4. About that screen . . .”No comment,”  Indiana coach Frank Vogel said Friday.

Come Saturday night, the Pacers will need answers, with or without Hill. Paging Paul George. Paging Roy Hibbert. Paging someone, anyone to help pick up the slack. The Pacers have said they are deep. This is when they need to be, lead or not lead. The reasons for urgency are there in black and white, not to mention blue and gold.

Lose, and the series once tilting their way is tied.

Lose, and the Pacers must play Game 7 on the road, where they have lost four of six in the postseason, all four by a bunch.

Lose, and the Knicks can clinch at Madison Square Garden, where they are 35-12 this season.

Lose, and the Pacers will have history hissing at them from the front row, sitting right next to Spike Lee. Road teams are 10-26 this century in Game 7.

See how this works? One loss, one headache, and everything changes.

Home must save the Pacers now. Home, and finding a way, even with one wheel missing. If Hill is still out, it will be a chance to learn something else about these Pacers. We know they’re talented. We know they’re good. We know they’re eager. Now we’ll find out how resilient they are.

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