Pacers Pound the Paint, Beat the HeatThe Indiana Pacers outscored the Miami Heat 50-32 in the paint, outrebounded them 49-30 and translated that interior dominance into a 99-92 win to tie the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2. Roy Hibbert (23 points, 12 rebounds) and David West (14 points, 12 rebounds) led Indiana's inside attack, while Lance Stephenson--who has morphed into some hybrid version of Ruben Patterson, Vernon Maxwell and Bonzi Wells--scored 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and took turns harassing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on defense. James scored a game-high 24 points and had a solid floor game (six rebounds, five assists) but he never quite took over the game before fouling out with :56 remaining. James did not receive much help; Mario Chalmers played well (20 points on 6-14 field goal shooting) but Dwyane Wade (16 points, six assists, 5-15 field goal shooting) and Chris Bosh (seven points, three rebounds, 1-6 field goal shooting) were invisible for most of the game.
Indiana scored the first 11 points of the game but Miami countered with a quick run to take a 17-16 lead. The game was closely contested the rest of the way. Both teams made big plays and blunders--and the same could be said of the officiating--but the main story was that James did not have nearly the same success in the post that he did in Miami's game three victory. TNT's Steve Kerr observed that even though James has become an effective post player he still seems to prefer facing the hoop; if James is defended physically he will often settle for turnaround jumpers instead of attacking the hoop.
In my series preview I picked Miami to win the series--and I stand by that choice--but I also wrote, "The Pacers have the right kind of team to beat the Heat; they have two strong big men, an athletic wing player who can challenge James and a point guard who can both get into the paint and make jumpers. Do they have the mental and physical toughness to execute the correct game plan for six or seven games against the reigning NBA champions?" When you are facing a great team in the playoffs, you cannot give away possessions, let alone give away games; the Pacers blew a great opportunity at the end of game one and they inexplicably lacked energy in game three. It seems unlikely that Indiana can get away with squandering two golden opportunities--but another way of looking at this series is that the Pacers have beaten the Heat twice in the last three games after the Heat had only lost three times in their previous 49 games.
TNT's Kenny Smith believes that unless LeBron James has four superhuman performances the Pacers will win this series because they have the more well balanced team; he feels that James is Miami's only matchup advantage and that James has to dominate in order to make up for Indiana's strength inside and overall depth. Julius Erving, who made a wonderful guest appearance on TNT's Inside the NBA set, disagrees: "The NBA has been and always will be a star driven league, so you can have all the balanced attack that you want but at crunch time in these next three games if the stars become superstars and play like superstars--and Miami has three and a possible fourth and Indiana has one, possibly two--the stars are going to be the key to the balance of this series, not a balanced attack. It's not equal opportunity basketball; you just can't dribble it and move it around and let anybody take the shot at strategic times. You've got to have direction and a purpose for a guy having the ball in his hands." Erving's larger point is correct--and has been time tested throughout NBA history--but if the Pacers maintain an intense possession by possession focus on playing the right way at both ends of the court they can, at the very least, seriously challenge the Heat and find out if James is willing/able to play at the superhuman level he reached in the 2012 playoffs.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:32 AM