The Miami Heat have mostly coasted their way through their last 52 games. It’s not an insult. It’s a testament to their greatness.
But one thing is certain: The Heat haven’t played a team like these Pacers right now.
The Heat have lived on streaks, playing sloppily in first halves, then exploding for late game scoring bursts to win game by single digits. It is so commonplace that Miami can be losing by over 10 points in the first quarter and no one raises an eyebrow. They always come back.
Well, before they played in this series against the Pacers, that is.
The Pacers aren’t just any team. They aren’t the most talented team, nor do they own a superstar, although forward Paul George and center Roy Hibbert are getting there. The Pacers simply are a great, determined team that is built to beat the Miami Heat. Miami lacks size and cannot counter big bodies in the paint. They aren’t exceptional at defensive rebounding and are awful off the offensive glass. They have no player that can successfully guard Hibbert and George is actually doing a decent job at containing Miami forward LeBron James enough to keep the Pacers in the game.
The Pacers’ backs are against the wall, but they have done many things right. This series isn’t over, but what can they do to win?
Here are a few things:
Hibbert needs to get rebounds on both sides of the court.
The Pacers are at their best when their big man is corralling missed shots. While Hibbert is averaging nearly the same offensive and defensive rebounds per game in both the wins and losses in this series, he did not get those averages similarly. In the wins, Hibbert had nearly the same amount of offensive and defensive rebounds. In Game Four, he had six of each, and in Game Two, he had six offensive and four defensive rebounds. In the losses, the numbers are skewed by a superb Game Three performance where he pulled in 17 rebounds. If you take away that game, he is only averaging 4.5 offensive rebounds, 3 defensive rebounds and 7.5 total rebounds. Those averages are almost on par with his averages during the regular season, but he is playing Miami now and his team needs more. In the wins, Hibbert averaged six offensive rebounds, five defensive rebounds and eleven rebounds per game, which is a noticeable change from the losses.
Keep limiting Miami’s three-point shooters.
Last year, Miami’s Shane Battier and Mike Miller’s three-point shooting carried the Heat through the playoffs, providing a spark every time the team needed it. The Pacers have completely eliminated that threat and Miami has noticeably suffered because of it. Ray Allen and Shane Battier, Miami’s best three-point shooters, have had a rough time from beyond the arc. Allen is shooting 30 percent (6-of-20) on three-pointers, which is markedly lower from his season-average of 42 percent. Allen also only made one three-pointer over the first two games of the series. Shane Battier has been absolutely dreadful, shooting 13 percent when his regular season average was 43 percent. Battier has also been shut out in scoring twice this series. Allen and Battier are both averaging over four points less than in the regular season, but the problems are so much deeper than that. Those eight points per game are important, don’t get me wrong, but when a team has a consistent three-point threat, it spaces the floor and forces defenders to close out the perimeter shooters. With Roy Hibbert guarding the basket, Miami needs to give their players as much space as possible to work against Hibbert. As long as the three-point threat isn’t there, Indiana will continue to frustrate guards Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers, and to a lesser extent, LeBron James.
Paul George needs to keep being Indiana’s LeBron James.
It is remarkable how fast Paul George has grown as a player. Last year, he was just another player on an incredibly balanced Pacers team. This year, he transformed into a star, and the playoffs have transformed him yet again. He is now a leader. While certain Pacers have shrunk in key moments, George has stood tall. Paul George isn’t quite LeBron James, and the numbers will show that, but George is becoming a guy that can do it all and he’s doing it at just the right time. Here are the two players compared in the major stat categories.
Name Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk FG%
LeBron James 28.4 7.2 5.4 1.2 1.6 .53
Paul George 20.2 5.4 5.4 0.2 0.4 .46
As you can see, George is very efficient in points, rebounds and assists. Like James, George leads his team in both points and assists per game. He misses out on leading his team in rebounds, but that is understandable because his team is the top rebounding team in the league and his team’s center is 7-foot-2-inches.
The Pacers can win this series, although it is an uphill battle. The Pacers have enjoyed mismatches at almost every position and are a Game One buzzer-beater layup from leading the Heat 3-2 instead of the other way around. The Pacers need George and Hibbert to continue playing well and they need George Hill, Lance Stephenson and David West to play better over the course of the whole game. That, and they need to play defense the way they have all year. They will be in front of their home fans for Game Six and winning that game is the first step to taking down the defending champs.
The question is: Can the Pacers pull this off?
-Marty F. Nemec