When expectations rise for the Indiana Pacers, it’s probably best you realize …. it’s the Pacers.
Don’t invest in them, and don’t believe a 15-point first half lead means anything.
Indiana jumped on the throats of the Miami Heat to begin Game 3, but couldn’t muster the energy to give one hard stomp. Out of the gate, Miami scored just four points in the first nine minutes of the game, as Indiana took a 17-4 lead and the crowd became restless.
Pre-game, I discussed how the Pacers’ best chance to steal one win in South Beach was to treat the ball as a hot potato and emphasize ball movement. They listened, but in the wrong way.
19 total turnovers for a team aiming at their first NBA Finals appearance in 14 years, is unacceptable. The funny thing? We’ve actually learned to accept it, because it’s never going to change for this unit. There’s no true point guard on the floor, one that’s able to slow down the action, orchestrate fluid sets, and deliver the right entry passes, or pass out of double teams. That’s what Indiana is missing, and there’s no questioning the fact they would be the Eastern Conference favorites if they had one.
The four-point advantage at halftime wasn’t enough for the Pacers. In fact, their chances at winning Game 3 diminished a tad bit more with each turnover they gave up in the second quarter. Eight. It was eight of them, which translates to 32 turnovers per 48 minutes. On the road against the two-time defending champs, do you mind just handing Miami the win on a silver platter?
This disappointing act by the Pacers isn’t all their fault.
After all, when superstar — yes, I said superstar — Dwyane Wade is knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to end the third and start the fourth, give it up. Miami is such a powerhouse, such a juggernaut that when their weaknesses (Wade is only a 28.9 percent career 3-point shooter) are hurting you, there’s no chance to come away victorious.
Indiana does have perimeter shooting skills, but outside of C.J. Watson, it’s nobody’s specialty on the team. Yes, there’s Chris Copeland, but Frank Vogel believes the best place for him is parking his behind on the bench for 48 minutes.
For Miami, who is it?
It’s not just a pure shooter. It’s not just a top shooter in today’s game. It’s a 38-year-old veteran, that’s been moving without the ball since he came out of the womb.
It’s the greatest shooter to ever pick up a basketball.
Ray Allen. That’s what happened to Indiana’s chances at taking a 2-1 series lead, getting the only win in American Airlines Arena they needed.
Allen scored 16 points for Miami in Game 3, 13 of them being the demise for the Pacers in the fourth quarter. Four 3-pointers — Mike Breen could’ve said “BANG!” every single time — were a result of the Pacers’ defensive lapses. Whether it was David West not being capable of moving through screens to cover the sneaky sharpshooter or Lance Stephenson showing laziness on transition defense, Indiana had no defensive answer. Covering such a threatening assignment requires your team to be on the same page, it’s not just one guy’s (West) fault.
Have we seemed to forget that Indiana’s closest asset to a “superstar” is Paul George? Last year in the Eastern Conference Finals, George made a name for himself. He acted like a landlord putting tenants on notice. George’s play to start the series last year was an effort to warn Miami that he’s coming.
In the first three games vs. Miami last year, George shot 19-of-42 from the field (45.2 percent) with two of those games played on the road. So far in this version of the East Finals, George has been sluggish. There’s been no monstrous plays, no Birdman posters, nothing. Granted, he’s been concussed for a fourth quarter (Game 2), but it doesn’t cover up his struggles. George has shot 9-of-29 in the last two games, after coming up huge in Game 1 with 24 points.
If there was one thing to pinpoint for the Pacers’ struggles — besides the lack of dominant sixth man that can give you double digits every night — it’s that David West didn’t have enough opportunities to develop position in the middle. In Game 1, West was able to get inside and connect on 8-of-11 field goals, all while physically dominating Miami’s front court.
On Saturday, West only had a handful of good looks, with the Heat doing a much better job rattling the veteran, and putting a body on him:
Mario Chalmers just lets West know he’s there for the double team, and that’s normally enough to make a big uncomfortable. West throws up an errant shot, and notice how quickly Chalmers leaks out. Miami is better at this than any other team, and that can’t happen. One pass down court, and Chalmers is cutting the lead to just one in the third.
West was able to knock down five shots in the game for 13 points, but all were toughly contested. We didn’t see many pick-and-pops with West and Stephenson or Hill, and that’s something that has to re-appear in Game 4.
Allowing 26 points off turnovers isn’t helping your case for having the number one seed, or claiming you deserve a spot in the NBA Finals.
Until you win on the road, you don’t deserve it. Indiana is 5-2 on the road this postseason, but all five wins were against the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards. Nothing against Mike Budenholzer or Randy Wittman …. but there’s only one Miami Heat.
Winning on the road against them is a daunting task that I fear only one team can accomplish, and they’re currently up 2-0 on the other side of the bracket.
Nonetheless, Indiana now has a blueprint, now understands what they have to do. Grabbing Game 4 on Monday just became life or death for the Pacers. Returning home down 3-1, Indiana will still feel self confident. But, in reality, it’ll still be death.