On Thursday, the Indiana Pacers lessened one of their chances at failure in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
With superstar — no, just star — forward Paul George declaring himself symptom free from the concussion he suffered late in Game 2, the worry began to diminish. Then, he passed all phases of the league’s concussion protocol necessary to be cleared for Saturday’s game. It was a close call. One knee to the back of the head could have ended the Pacers’ season, unless Lance Stephenson decided to go berserk and prance around American Airlines Arena like he’s Michael Jordan.
George is back, without the blurred vision, but it’s mandatory that he’s on the superstar level again. He may have had blurred vision for the last quarter of Game 2, but in reality, he played as if he had a full blindfold over his face for 43 minutes.
So, stop playing as if you’re concussed
One of Indiana’s max-contract stars began the game on 1-of-12 shooting, with relatively good looks at the rim. He loves fishing, but on Tuesday he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of his boat. Fishing relaxes George, and allows him to reset his mind, and focus on the next task ahead. This time, it’s winning one game in Miami, so maybe he went out on the lake before boarding the plane.
George did finish the loss by getting 4-of-16 field goals to fall for 14 points, but it’s not enough production in the first three quarters. When you know Miami’s two hall-of-fame scorers will come at you in the fourth, the sense of urgency to get ahead early in the game rises about 10 notches.
When are we going to stop being disappointed when George gives us these heinous performances?
We’re not. You know why?
Because we’ll never learn to stop with the prisoner-of-the-moment reaction. One great game (Game 4 at Washington) and we slap the “best two-way player” label next to his name faster than Phil Jackson selecting a coach for his grisly Knicks. Wait, terrible analogy.
*Realizes Jackson’s number one option bolted for Golden State, and he’s hellbent on finding an orchestrator of the triangle offense with Carmelo Anthony. Boy, that should be fun*
When it comes to George, consider the full body of work — the regular season and 15 playoff games thus far. You’ll learn one thing: There’s no proper analysis to take away from his game when it’s ridiculously inconsistent. He hasn’t fully grasped how to enter that mode that the top superstars of this league have — “We’ve fooled around for 40 or so minutes, now it’s time to kill.”
I’ve separated the league into different tiers before, and I’ll continue to do it. LeBron, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Dwight Howard belong in tier one. For the most part, those guys are the ones that are most valuable to their team, and are able to enter that mode in their respective positions, and play styles.
George is headlining tier two, along with Stephen Curry and James Harden. George is still learning the ingredients that make a guy the go-to player on a title team, and that’s all right. He’s finishing up his fourth season, and there’s only a select few that can be franchise players right out of the gate. With today’s high-level competition and transformation into the “Big 3″ era, it’s just taking longer for George to get over the hump.
Although George isn’t missing from the Pacers rotation during Game 3, most of the Pacers’ success will be reliant on the others.
Hot Potato Ball — Move the Rock
When Miami’s defense locks in, specifically at home, quality possessions are hard to come by, unless Roy Hibbert just has an ungodly mismatch in the middle and they feed the post over and over. Ball movement, which was the single factor that allowed them to take Game 1, will be paramount. In fact, it’s the only way to knock off the champs on their home floor:
Notice the simple pick-and-roll with Lance Stephenson and David West (a set that’s been deadly for Indiana through two games). Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade figure the best way to defend it is by hedging the weak screen and cutting off Stephenson from the drive.
Stephenson’s passing skills allow him to get the ball into the bigs better than any player on Indiana’s roster. The reason these sets can be the death of Miami is because the ball is going to one bad, angry man (West) in the post. Do we forget the damage West did in the paint all through Game 1? Miami didn’t, hence why they decide to throw numerous guys his way after the catch. Mario Chalmers gives a quick double team to harass West when he catches, and that leaves George Hill open in the right corner.
These quick, decisive passes need to come on the road. It starts and ends with Indiana being able to convert on the pick-and-roll, and for the big men to catch it cleanly in the paint. From there, history in this series says that Miami will react by collapsing. If the Pacers can’t make them pay for not having a center to contain the bigs, they don’t deserve to march to the Finals.
Keep Being 7’2″, Roy
Creating extra possessions for themselves is also salient for their chances at returning home split 2-2:
As noted, put the ball in Stephenson’s hands and good things will happen. When he ignites a play on the break, as he does with a quick pass to George in the corner, it makes the whole team want to match his intensity. Long rebounds, after Lance’s missed shot above, must end up in the Pacers’ hands. It’s clear Miami is going to hang back in the paint, so let Stephenson make a play, as he did for West multiple times.
In the paint, we seen Hibbert attack the glass for eight offensive boards in Game 2. On any other night, that’s a win for Indiana over the smaller Miami front line. They just didn’t account for Wade putting on his 2006 Finals costume in the fourth.
Haslem may be the best defender on Hibbert, but nobody’s able to box out Hibbert in most halfcourt situations, similar to the second board in the clip above. After another second chance opportunity, George and Hibbert run another pick-and-roll, and it causes Miami’s defense to scramble once again. End result? West gets inside, and he’s been a man since his days with Chris Paul.
Will Bosh rise from the dead?
Along with offensive execution, they’ll need help from Chris Bosh as well. By help, we obviously mean falling short on opportunities. In six games vs. Indiana this season (including this series), Bosh has connected on just 20 percent of uncontested 3-pointers. That’s just 4-of-20, and it’s unacceptable after he earned the “Big Shot Bosh” nickname for his heroics this season. Through the first two rounds of the playoffs (Bobcats, Nets), Bosh nailed 45 percent of his uncontested triples. That’s a 25 percent drop-off, and Wade and James realize it.
At some point, he rises from the endangered. He’s not extinct yet, but Miami will be if he can’t come along.
It’s all about moving the ball, and making Miami adjust on the fly. On the road, it may be tougher for Indiana to capitalize, but it’s the only way they’ll have a chance. Make no mistake: The Pacers will feel jubilant about coming home for Game 5, with a chance to take a 3-2 lead and put the champs on the ropes.
You can’t afford to drop the next two in Miami …. and they may just have the recipe to avoid it.