Here is the part where I don't try to argue with a three-time MVP, 12-time All-Star and Hall of Famer.
Perhaps the Pacers did go soft against the Heat, who blew open a close game with an extended run from the closing minutes of the second quarter on. Two of the Pacers' best players, forwards Danny Granger and David West, had to leave the game with injuries, but Bird was never one to make excuses and it stands to reason that nobody associated with the team he now runs would make excuses, either.
If the Pacers went too soft, though, several of the Heat players undoubtedly went too hard. Udonis Haslem's brutal foul against Tyler Hansbrough, for instance, somehow drew only a first-degree flagrant foul call, not a "flagrant two" call that would have warranted an automatic ejection. We know the call warranted a flagrant two because the Miami radio announcers enthusiastically called Haslem's flagrant one foul "absolutely the right call," which was as disingenuous as it was telling. Homer announcers do not often fess up to their team's transgressions unless they are pleading down to a lesser charge.
Bird may have wanted someone on the Pacers to respond, but the NBA's reigning top executive did not put anyone of that ilk on the roster he constructed. West got hurt and Roy Hibbert is too valuable to risk losing to an overzealous referee who might give the center the heave-ho, if given the opportunity. Granger tried to stick up for his teammates several times in the series, but he was hurt and, anyway, the Heat had stopped listening to him. Hansbrough, who has always been more of a guy who takes better than he dishes out, answered more emphatically than anyone should have liked. Lou Amundson is typically a foul machine, but he curiously picked up only one personal foul, and not necessarily a hard one at that, in 13 minutes of action.
There is a line, and both teams — especially the Heat — struggled to keep from crossing it on Tuesday. Wade's face was bloodied by Hansbrough's shot, and Dexter Pittman's elbow to Lance Stephenson's neck with 19 seconds left in the game was beyond unnecessary.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who experienced plenty of physical play as a point guard for the New York Knicks, watched Tuesday's game and did not seem to feel softness was an issue.
"You don't want to take it to some of the level of play in [Tuesday's] game," Rivers said prior to the Celtics' shootaround in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "There's nothing wrong with hard, physical play. I love it, actually. I think it should be allowed more, but nothing where it has a chance to injure a player. That's not good."
Again, Bird has the track record and the hardware to call his team whatever he wants. If he says the Pacers were soft, then he can feel free to change the team's name to the Indiana Pillows, if he can get ownership to sign off on the change.
When one team is going well beyond the boundaries of normal, acceptable physical play, though, the other one is bound to look less aggressive by comparison. Maybe that makes them soft, or maybe it just means they did not want to test the limits of the rules and possibly get someone injured in the process.
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