Game 2 ended in disappointing fashion for the home crowd when Heat forward LeBron James uncharacteristically committed two turnovers in the final minute of the fourth quarter to help the Pacers seal a 97-93 win.
The sight of those two miscues was apparently too much for some in the American Airlines Arena crowd, who departed before the final buzzer. The early exit apparently delighted Indiana's radio play-by-play broadcaster Mark Boyle, who ripped the Heat's fans for not staying all the way through to the bitter end.
"We are literally sitting in the crowd here," Boyle said, in an audio file of the broadcast posted on Miami sports site PageQSports.com. "These losers are leaving. They are flocking to the exits with their team down by three. This city does not only not deserve this team, they don't deserve any team."
Boyle, who has worked for the Pacers for more than two decades, posted a response on Twitter after receiving criticism over his comments about the Heat's fans.
"It appears they don't like me in Miami," he wrote. "Ouch."
Boyle's comments were apparently made just after George Hill made the first of two two icing free throws with eight seconds remaining in the game, as that was the only point during the game's final eight minutes in which Indiana held a three-point lead.
The television broadcast of the game confirmed that large sections of the lower bowl began emptying around at that time, immediately following James' second turnover, and the crowd would further clear out shortly thereafter when the referees stopped the game for a video review and the Pacers took a 20-second timeout with less than two seconds remaining.
Even if Boyle's comments are based in a factual analysis of the events, though, the collective assessment of the Heat's fanbase is pretty harsh. Surya Fernandez of HotHotHoops.com, a Heat blog, argues that the lower-bowl fans shouldn't be seen as the representatives of the entire fanbase.
Yes, everyone already knows that some lower bowl ticket attendees are not exactly the most hardcore basketball fans in the world. They arrive whenever they feel like it, though these 8:30 PM tipoff times have made that a moot point, and leave when they determine is the right time to possibly beat traffic. Who cares. Ask the upper bowl ticket holders, the loudest fans cheering in the arena and who still have to pay a pretty penny to get into the arena to see their favorite team in person, if the city deserves a professional basketball team. Or maybe ask the many fans who pack into the "standing room only" areas in the far corners of the AmericanAirlines Arena the same question.
The Heat have had a massive bulls-eye on their backs since forming the "Big 3" in 2010. Fans of the Pacers, Celtics, Bulls, and Cavaliers, among other teams, have taken strong anti-Heat stances at one point or another. Boyle's comments fall into that general context, although his role as a broadcaster and his targeting of the fans complicates the discussion.
NBA commissioner David Stern announced in April that the league's Board of Governors had actually discussed the possibility of curbing "homerism" in local broadcasts of the league's games, with an eye toward reducing criticism of the league's officials.
"[The meetings included] some questioning about whether, wasn't there anything we could do about the tenor of certain home team reporting on regional sports networks by which fans get their impression of the NBA and basically we told the owners that we explained what a homer is," Stern said. "And we weren't talking about baseball. And that that sells and that's what some of the networks are telling their announcers, and that has in its collectivity builds a certain impression [about the officials], but we're all over it, and we're working on it."
One would think criticism of opposing fans (read: paying customers) would fall into the same category as criticism of the officiating from the league's perspective. Words that surely played well in Indiana aren't necessarily in the best interests of the league as a whole.
“It sucks. It was 70 (Lakers fans) – 30 (Pacers fans) out there. These are the same people that want autographs after the game. We’re out there in the community. We’re doing our job, doing what we’re supposed to do on and off the court. Something has to change. I tip my hat to this team. We’ve been trouble free. Been out in the community shaking hands, we’re winning. It shouldn’t feel like an away game, especially with an important like this. Tonight, that’s what it felt like.”
“They always say your fans are your sixth man and you feed off that energy. Energy is down and we turn the ball over and we’re hearing cheers. We’re missing shots and we’re hearing cheers. That kind of brings your head down cause you know you’re at home. It shouldn’t be like that. Now we see how it is. We have to move forward, don’t worry about. Stay focus on what’s in this locker room and don’t worry about the rest.”
According to ESPN.com's attendance rankings, the Heat averaged 19,982 fans per home game this season, good for third in the league, while the Pacers ranked No. 24 at 15,269 fans per home game.
One Heat fan, Filomena Tobias, came under scrutiny during Miami's second-round series against Chicago when she flipped the bird to Bulls center Joakim Noah after he was ejected from Game 2. Game 3 between the Pacers and Heat is set for Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sunday. The Eastern Conference finals are tied at one game apiece.