Storylines from the early portion of the season — training camp, even — are beginning to come back to life.
The Indiana Pacers discussed all October and November that grabbing home-court advantage was imperative to advance to the NBA Finals. So far, so good. Nearly pushing the lead to 20 points at one point, Indiana was able to down the two-time defending champions in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday.
From tons of columns dissecting the main strength for Indiana in this series — pick-and-roll offense to create scrambles — the Heat still couldn’t execute defensively. In their four seasons together, the clear lack of size in the middle has been questioned, and Miami is sick and tired of it. However, no matter how much they want to avoid discussing their weakness, the Heat still have to answer the call.
Chris Bosh can’t, and any confidence that he can hold his own against David West and Roy Hibbert should be thrown out the window, and ran over. We rarely remember Bosh’s physical dominance in Toronto, as it’s a long gone memory. Bosh’s aggression — offensively and defensively — stayed north of the border, and he’s transformed into a more modern role with the Heat. Spacing the floor for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade has been the number one priority to that role, but it’s also because he wouldn’t survive banging in the post with Indiana’s front line.
The Pacers found more success in many pick-and-roll sequences throughout Game 1. In fact, they surprised themselves, don’t let them fool you. When you match up against the Goliath in the Eastern Conference, especially one that has ousted you two straight seasons, you would expect the champions to make adjustments. Miami’s favorite method of defending screen rolls is well noted, as trapping the ball handler occurred nearly every time in the Game 1 loss.
Adjustments are necessary, and you’d be egregious to believe Erik Spoelstra won’t make them. They’ve had to change certain tendencies in their two Finals wins over Oklahoma City and San Antonio, so this Indiana squad — gold swagger and all — can’t be any different.
Although, at the heart of the Pacers’ strength, how much will changing the defensive scheme even help Miami?
Accomplishing a lot in Game 1 from an offensive standpoint, Indiana toyed with Miami’s defense using West and Lance Stephenson in screen rolls early in the first half. When West rolls to the rim, it’s equaling trouble for the Heat if they decide to trap Stephenson after the screen. Why? Lance is still an underrated passer in halfcourt situations, and West is a grown man that’s capable of putting the ball on the floor when he receives the pass. As indecisive as he can be sometimes upon getting the ball, West is the one you want attacking the paint with momentum, particularly in the 4-on-3 sequence that comes after the screen roll.
Reverse that, with Hibbert and George engaging in the same type of play. George, as opposed to Stephenson, has been throwing erratic passes since the playoffs ignited, and it could just be that defenses are pressuring him to a higher degree than last year’s postseason. If a quality play is made, Hibbert has been receiving the pass relatively close in the paint, and Miami begins to collapse on the “big dawg.”
Say hello to easy buckets in the middle, and shooters on the wings. Everything opened up like a floodgate for Indiana to get their offense flowing, as the Pacers scored a playoff-high 30 points in the first quarter.
“We want to have balance,” Frank Vogel said following the win. “We want to utilize our wings’ strengths, and we want to take advantage of our big guys inside as well. So, it’s not one or the other, it’s both. We certainly want to be aggressive at all (five) positions.”
The Pacers nailed eight 3-pointers on Sunday, marking the seventh time they’ve reached that point in the playoffs (14 games). George Hill rose up from being among the least productive of starting point guards, and hit three triples in the first quarter to put Miami on their heels.
Answering back, had to be the Heat’s veteran, their longest tenured player.
Dwyane Wade, with knee troubles throughout the whole regular season, is still in the mix for top ten players in the sport today. As a matter of fact, put him in there and stop removing him. It’s getting abhorrent. We give James Harden entirely too much credit for playing in Houston’s jack-happy offense, and the generous calls he receives. Wade, especially this season, has shot the ball efficiently, and comes through when the offense stales for Miami, or their power forward can’t buy a bucket.
(This guy hasn’t came through, and probably won’t on the road at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. You still want him, Dallas?)
Wade played the largest role in Miami preventing a huge 20+ point deficit late in the first half and more in the second half, and he can attribute his scoring ability to getting into the paint, and not falling too much in love with jump shots. Scoring on numerous floaters near the rim and wanting to get out in the fast break, Wade proved why he is the biggest threat to stopping Indiana’s home court advantage. It’s not LeBron, and it’s definitely not Bosh. All along, we’ve slept on Wade’s contributions. It’s time we wake up, and Indiana has to cut off his slithers to the rim.
When I asked Wade if his illustrious runners just inside the free throw line are crucial to Miami getting their offense flowing, emphasis was surely placed.
“We need to touch the paint,” Wade said. “We need paint points. We need myself, LeBron, and (Chalmers) to attack the paint and be able to open up our shooters, so they can get into a better flow and rhythm. That’s all I was doing tonight was trying to be aggressive. I had some opportunities, and just tried to take advantage of them.”
For the first time in two years, the Pacers took a lead over the Heat in a playoff series.
All last May, Miami and Indiana switched wins in the Conference Finals, with LeBron’s game-winning layup ruining the Pacers’ chances at stealing a road win.
This time, they have a chance to head to American Airlines Arena leading the series, 2-0.
The driver’s seat is theirs, for now. It’s just up to the pick-and-roll prowess to take the wheel, and steer.