Game 1 and 2 between the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat were both down-to-the-wire affairs. Game 3, not so much. Hopefully we get more of the former and less of the latter when Game 4 rolls around on Tuesday night.
After fiddling around in Game 2 and allowing the Pacers to steal home-court advantage, Miami suddenly seemed to remember that they looked like one of the best teams in NBA history in their previous 50 games.
The Heat took an early lead, extended it, held on as tight as possible and ended up walking away with a 114-96 win.
Basically, the game was more or less decided by the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
Indiana didn’t wave the white flag until well into the fourth, but the Heat never took their foot off the gas pedal.
Miami shot 55 percent from the field, 42.8 percent from the three-point line and scored 52 points in the paint against a team that touted the best defense in each of those categories during the regular season.
They played just about as perfect a game as any team could against these Pacers, and the score reflected just that.
Game 4 will likely play a huge part in deciding which team makes it to the NBA Finals. This game falls just short of being a must-win for the Pacers, it’s more of a, “Man things are going to be difficult if we don’t win” game for them.
Time: Wednesday, May 28, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Series: Miami, 2-1
Key Storyline: The Turnaround
Surprisingly enough, the Pacers looked like the better team through the first two games.
They held the lead for the majority of both games, hit shots to keep them close when Miami did get out ahead, and they played suffocating defense on the peripheral members of the Heat.
LeBron James averaged 33 points in the first two games, but the rest of the team had trouble getting into any kind of a flow.
Miami’s shooting percentage was solid through the first two, knocking down 47 percent of their attempts.
However, they made just 32.5 percent of their three-point attempts in those games, the Pacers’ perimeter defense doing its job.
Compare those two to Game 3 and you’ll see an eight percent bump in field-goal percentage and more than 10 percent in three-point percentage.
Shane Battier and Ray Allen didn’t necessarily get into a perfect flow, but Mario Chalmers knocked down his shots, Chris Bosh had some key three-pointers and Udonis Haslem remembered that offense is actually an option when he’s on the court.
When the Heat are more than the “LeBron James Show,” it’s obviously harder to beat them. But when guys like Chalmers and Haslem are efficient, along with Wade, Bosh and LeBron, you might as well pack up after the third quarter.
Series Star So Far: LeBron James
LeBron had a bit of an off-night in Game 3, scoring “just” 22 points on a “measly” 47 percent shooting with four rebounds and three assists.
When you average 33 points, nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks on 59 percent shooting, even a simple “good” game is going to look like a disappointment.
But make no mistake, there is no other player quite like LeBron in this one. He’s put together a stat line around 29 points, seven rebounds, five assists, a steal and a block while shooting 56 percent from the floor.
That’s pretty good.
He’s hit a game-winning shot (although he did cough up two huge turnovers to seal Miami’s fate in Game 2) and carried the biggest load for Miami in each of the first three games.
Until Paul George starts knocking down more than 50 percent of his shots or Roy Hibbert completely keeps Miami out of the paint, LeBron isn’t going to be dethroned.
Numbers-wise, LeBron isn’t having one of those legendary performances like back in 2009, but it’s not like he’s impacting the game any less.
Projected Starting Lineups
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers (PG), Dwyane Wade (SG), LeBron James (SF), Udonis Haslem (PF), Chris Bosh (C)
Indiana Pacers: George Hill (PG), Lance Stephenson (SG), Paul George (SF), David West (PF), Roy Hibbert (C)
Injury Report (Via CBSSports.com)
No Injuries Reported
Danny Granger, Out (Knee)
Sam Young, Probable (Ankle)
Miami Will Win If…
Players not named LeBron contribute.
We’ve seen what a bad game from LeBron entails. In 76 games this season, he’s only shot below 47 percent nine times and scored fewer than 20 points five times.
Indiana likely won’t be shutting him down throughout the rest of this series.
However, they can shut down the guys that surround LeBron, and they can do it pretty efficiently after watching the first two games.
Chris Andersen is a great help off the bench, but Miami really needs its perimeter shooters in order for their offense to run at highest efficiency.
When Battier, Allen, Chalmers and Bosh are all knocking down jump shots, Miami is an incredibly difficult team to beat.
Indiana’s size makes it hard for the Heat to get to the rim, but when Miami is making three-pointers the Pacers have to spread out a bit more.
That gives the pick-and-roll more room to be successful, and LeBron more room to sprint into the lane on an isolation play.
If those shots from the other members of the Heat fall, Indiana will have a hard time keeping up.
Indiana Will Win If…
Perimeter defense returns to form.
Miami’s biggest advantage in Game 3 was the modest, yet recognizable success they had from the three-point line.
Indiana was actually more efficient and made more three-pointers, but the effect that making long range shots has on the Miami offense is much larger than on Indiana’s offense.
Throughout the season, Indiana had the best perimeter defense in the NBA, holding opponents to 32.7 percent from the three-point line.
It’s the reason why they were able to beat the New York Knicks in six games, and it’s why they were viewed as the biggest threat to the Heat in the Eastern Conference.
Take away the three-pointer from Miami’s offense and suddenly Wade has to step up to help LeBron out in the isolation game, something that he’s been unable to do for the entirety of the playoffs.
Prediction: Indiana Pacers 94, Miami Heat 92
Miami’s blowout win in Game 3 was a complete surprise after the first two contests made it seem as if we were in for some really close ones for the rest of the series.
Not only did they catch everybody watching by surprise, it seems they caught the Pacers by surprise as well.
It was the first time Indiana faced a big deficit in the series, and they were never able to come close enough after halftime to actually make the Heat sweat.
While it’s easy to call it a learning experience, that sounds like a comment that discounted how well Miami played.
What I’m more focused on is the first two games, in which Miami was able to take away LeBron’s toys and make him beat them by himself. That’s going to be Indiana’s main goal in Game 4.
Something tells me we’re in for a long, fun series.