Larry Bird blasts Pacers for ‘soft’ effort against Heat in Game 5 blowout

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MIAMI — Larry Bird called the Indiana Pacers soft. His team agreed. LeBron James thought otherwise.

Bird told The Indianapolis Star early Wednesday that he “can’t believe my team went soft” after the Pacers were beaten 115-83 in Game 5 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday night against the Miami Heat.

Miami leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 on Thursday in Indianapolis.

Tuesday’s game in Miami was marred by three flagrant fouls — one committed by Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough against Dwyane Wade, another by Miami’s Udonis Haslem against Hansbrough moments after Wade was bloodied. The last was a particularly hard play by Heat reserve center Dexter Pittman against the PacersLance Stephenson in the final seconds.

“I agree with his assessment. We did play soft,” Indiana’s Danny Granger said Wednesday. “We got smacked around. We got beat up, we got bullied, and we really didn’t respond well.

“I’ve been with Larry since I’ve been in Indiana for seven years,” Granger added. “He’s not been one to hold his tongue, and 99 percent of the time what he’s saying is right. I think he just called out what everyone else saw. We played a soft game. We didn’t play with the playoff intensity that we needed to win.”

Granger was in flip-flops when Wednesday’s practice ended, saying the left ankle he sprained in Game 5 still was painful. Stephenson, who had X-rays taken to rule out any fractures to his collarbone or shoulder areas, did not practice.

“In my mind, I’m going to play,” Granger said. “Elimination game, I have to play.”

Vogel sounded concerned but optimistic.

“Very much hoping he’ll be available tomorrow,” Vogel said. “He’s a gamer. I’m thinking he’ll play. But his ankle’s pretty bad, so we’ll see.”

The Heat had a different reaction to Bird’s comments. With the Pacers facing a win-or-else game Thursday, James thought Bird - recently announced as the league’s executive of the year - wanted to provide extra incentive for Indiana.

“He’s just trying to amp them up. That’s all. That’s all it is,” James said. “He knows his team isn’t soft. But with them, with their backs against the wall at this point, he knows what he’s doing. He’s not the executive of the year for no reason.”

All three of the flagrant fouls called Tuesday were category-1, meaning no players were automatically ejected. The league has a wide range of options available for its review process, including upgrading those fouls to category-2. The NBA could also issue fines and suspensions.

“I expect they will. That game was nationally televised,” Granger said. “A lot of people saw the plays. I think they have to.”

The NBA had made no public comment before either team finished practices Wednesday.

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