Editor's note: Four teams face elimination on Thursday in Game 6 of their respective first-round playoff series. ESPN's Dr. Jack Ramsay pays a housecall to prescribe advice for one of those teams, the ...
... Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers trail 3-2 in their series against the Celtics and face elimination from the playoffs with another loss on Thursday. They've demonstrated the capacity to win, but must get their "A" game in place in Game 6 to stay alive.
The Pacers squandered comfortable leads in each of their losses in the series, but they led all the way in their first victory and came from behind in Game 5 to grind out an overtime win. Their offense has been sporadic throughout the series (41 percent from the field) and their defense has often been too permissive. However, they found ways to stop Paul Pierce in both victories.
In Game 2, Pierce was 5-of-18 from the field, shot only five free throws and scored 14 points. In Game 5, Pierce was 5-of-21 from the field, shot six free throws and finished with 16 points. In the three Celtics wins, Pierce averaged just under 33 points and made 45 of 47 free throws. The Celts rely heavily on Pierce for points, rebounds and assists. Antoine Walker gives the Celts another player who can provide total production, too (averages of 19 points, eight rebounds and just over four assists). They combine to take close to half of Boston's shots and score about the same percentage of its points.
The Pacers haven't gotten consistent scoring opportunities against Boston's switching, rotating defense. There are too many good shooters on their roster for them to be shooting 41 percent, but the Pacers regain possession on some of those missed shots because of their rebounding advantage over the Celts.
Indy needs a duplication of its defense in Games 1 and 5 when it did a good job of limiting Pierce's production. In those games, Pierce was closely defended at the perimeter (mostly by Ron Artest and Al Harrington), then second and third defenders closed off his attempts to drive to the hoop, forced him into tough shots without foul calls or made him pass to open teammates who didn't knock down shots. The Pacers also did a good job defending Walker and have a plus-five rebounding edge for the series. Stop Pierce and Walker, control the boards and you win the game.
The Pacers need to pick up the tempo of their offense. There is too much standing and watching and not enough penetrating, cutting and passing. Boston does an outstanding defensive job fronting the post and rotating to open shooters, but better ball and player movement will open up improved scoring opportunities -- inside for Jermaine O'Neal and Brad Miller and at the edges for Ron Mercer, Reggie Miller, Artest, Harrington and maybe Austin Croshere.
Coach Isiah Thomas continues to tweak his player rotation. Jeff Foster took advantage of increased minutes in Game 5 to give a strong performance (eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes), and Thomas should give point guard Tim Hardaway more minutes to improve the team's perimeter shooting potential and get a better offensive flow. It would also help the Pacers' cause if Reggie got his shot back.
Lastly, Indiana must be ready to play with poise and confidence before a highly partisan, full house at Boston's Fleet Center -- currently the NBA's loudest venue.
Dr. Jack Ramsay, who is an NBA analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.