MIAMI — In an 18-minute briefing with the media Wednesday, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra used the word “competition” or a variation of it 23 times.
If you get the idea Spoelstra didn’t feel his team competed as well as it could have in Tuesday’s 99-92 loss at Indiana, you would be right.
Nowhere was that more evident than on the glass. The Heat were outrebounded 49-30, allowing the Pacers to tie the Eastern Conference finals 2-2 heading into Thursday night’s Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“We just have to do better,’’ Spoelstra said. “We have to be more committed without any excuses and just get it done. That’s what it’s going to take to beat this team and we’re capable of it. So that will be our focus in Game 5.”
Wait a minute. Spoelstra didn’t use any variations of that word in that quote. But he more than made up for it elsewhere.
“It’s about trying to win the competition,” he said. “It’s not about blame. It’s not about deflection. It’s not about anything else. Let’s go right to the heart of the matter and try to win the competition the next time, and we have a great locker room of alpha competitors.”
So there you have three of the 23 times he used it.
This is a fierce series. Whichever team can survive two of the next three games will earn the right to face San Antonio in the NBA Finals that start June 6. The Spurs, who wrapped up a sweep of Memphis on Monday, have to be relishing watching the Heat and Pacers beat each other up while they rest.
On Tuesday, it was more Indiana beating up Miami. The Pacers outscored the Heat 50-32 in the paint.
Center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West each had 12 rebounds for the bigger Pacers. Meanwhile, Miami’s leading rebounder was guard Ray Allen with seven.
The 7-foot-2 Hibbert has been a load for the Heat to handle. With 23 points Tuesday, he’s now averaging 22.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in the series.
“Just trying to be physical, 275 (pounds),” Hibbert said. “I got to throw my body around.”
Spoelstra, though, denies Hibbert’s size makes him too tough to handle against the Heat. You know what it comes down to.
“It’s competition at its best,” Spoelstra said. “We got to do more. There’s no excuses if we want to win.”
A few more rebounds from Heat center Chris Bosh wouldn’t hurt. He’s averaging a meager 3.3 boards in the series, meaning he’s been outrebounded overall 48-13 by Hibbert.
And now Bosh might be ailing, having sprained his right ankle Tuesday. He limped to the locker room with 5:05 left in the third quarter but was able to return with 8:42 remaining in the game.
Bosh shrugged off any concern about the injury following the loss, saying, “No, I finished the game.”
With the Heat not practicing Tuesday and Spoelstra talking to the media before Bosh came in for treatment, the coach said he didn’t have an update yet.
Bosh did admit the Pacers “got too many offensive rebounds.” They had 15, with Hibbert grabbing six and West four.
On the other end, Bosh has said his rebounding numbers are often hampered because he plays outside on offense in an attempt to space the floor. With that being the case, it also hasn’t helped the Heat’s rebounding that their outside shooters aren’t making buckets.
Top marksman Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole are a combined 11 of 43 in the series on 3-pointers, including 3 of 13 Tuesday. Spoelstra didn’t rule out that he might give some time in Game 5 to Mike Miller, saying, “He’s ready to go if needed.’’
The Heat overall have had rebounding problems this season against the Pacers. They were walloped 55-36 Jan. 8 at Indiana in an 87-77 loss.
Miami has been outrebounded by at least five in every game this season against Indiana, but only in that January loss and in the latest one has the margin been in double digits. The Heat are 3-2 in other games against the Pacers, meaning a key for Miami is simply to keep the margin close.
“We never said we can get pummeled on the glass. That is not a winning formula for us,” Spoelstra said.
“We can’t afford to get beat on the glass by 20,” Heat forward LeBron James said after Tuesday’s game. “Can’t happen.”
James started off the series by grabbing 10 boards in Game 1 and saying he needs to rebound more to help counteract Indiana’s big and physical frontline. But James has fallen off since then, and his series average is now at 7.0, less than his regular-season number of 8.0.
Much of the talk, though, since Tuesday’s game has been about James fouling out for just the second time in 128 career playoff games. James said after the game he didn’t feel as if the disqualifying offensive foul he got with 56 seconds should have been called.
James also questioned several other whistles. But Spoelstra didn’t offer any complaints Wednesday about the officiating.
“It’s irrelevant,” Spoelstra said. “You adjust to however it’s being called. At the end of the day, it’s about winning the competition.”
You probably have figured out by now Spoelstra wants his team to compete harder in Game 5.