May 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) dribbles the ball against the defense of Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers (15) during the fourth quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 93-90. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Pacers: Backs Against The Wall, Forcing a Game 6

Desperate times, calls for desperate measures …. I guess?

Instead of getting in LeBron James‘ head, Lance Stephenson was up to different antics during Game 5’s win over the Miami Heat.  He was in the superstar’s ear, blowing in it.

What?

Along with trying to listen in to Miami’s timeout huddle, Stephenson stood next to James during a dead ball, subtly blowing in the ear of the foul-happy King.

James couldn’t get in a rhythm all night due to foul trouble, picking up his fifth foul in the third quarter and having to save his attack for the last portion of the fourth.  Paul George took advantage, forcing us to re-visit the “Is this man a superstar” question once more.  The answer is as consistent as Indiana’s tendencies.

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May 28, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Miami Heat forward LeBron James (6) and Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson (1) stand on the court during the fourth quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Indiana defeats Miami 93-90. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the storylines that could be drawn from this 93-90 win for the Pacers, perhaps the most intriguing is that Miami couldn’t close out the series when they connected on 15 3-pointers.  After Game 4 on Memorial Day, Dwyane Wade praised Rashard Lewis for his defensive contribution, and added “He’s going to make a shot one of these days.”

Lewis’ number was called Wednesday once again, inserted in the starting lineup and having to take on a new role with James parked on the bench for 24 minutes.  The 16-year veteran — who is ranked ninth in All-Time 3-point field goals — isn’t in the star role that he was in Orlando during their 2009 Finals run.  However, there’s one thing about the game of basketball you never forget.  A shooter never loses that special touch, regardless of age.  Miami has two of the top 10 3-point shooters in the history of the league.  We tend to forget that at times, or underestimate it.

Lewis drained six 3-pointers, majority from the left corner, in nine attempts.  Without his 18 points to go along with the load Wade had to carry in the second half, the Pacers would have ran away with this game like they stole Miami blind.

“They always have somebody out there that can shoot the basketball.  Whether it’s Mike Miller, James Jones, Ray Allen, or Shane Battier, Chris Bosh.  I mean, they have 3-point shooters at every position.  We had our coverages, we got to them, and they made some contested ones.

Most of his attempts in the third and fourth quarter were accompanied by strong closeouts by the defender, but more often than not, Indiana seemed to give too much space to the wrong guys.

You have to know the personnel, and the Heat’s 48.4 percent 3-point efficiency is what nearly left Indiana in the dust in the second quarter.  From the opening tip, the Pacers were effective in stopping points in the middle, but it’s asking a lot for your guys to close out on shooters when they are left stranded in a desert:

What is George Hill helping on in this situation in the first quarter?  He’s parked right beside David West, waiting for James to attack the basket.  All is understood, since James has a great size advantage while posting up Stephenson in the left corner, but there are two 3-point shooters — Chalmers shot 38.5 percent from deep this season — perfectly spaced on the weak side.

James is the best distributor in basketball out of the post, especially making that pass to a shooter’s “pocket.”  Lewis catches it high, but is still able to get into his shot without even being contested.  The way Indiana had positioned themselves defensively, he could’ve swung an extra pass to Chalmers in the corner, who is still capable of killing the defense.

The 11 points for the Pacers in the second quarter was everything but a work of art.  It was rubbish, and had fans hanging their heads while walking to the concourse for halftime.

I’ve never witnessed a quicker change of mood in one quarter, immediate shift from pessimism to optimism.  When the third got underway, everyone knew we was able to give Indiana a ton of credit.  Being able to pick up the intensity, and play through your star (George) in the second half meant everything to the team, as they gave themselves a chance for a Game 7 on their home floor.  That’s all you can ask for.  That, and a low amount of turnovers.

Opposed to Games 3 and 4, the Pacers took care of the ball, and didn’t allow too many fast break situations.  Most of it had to do with James’ defensive prowess being on the sideline, rather than in the game.  People will leave that part out, though.  Miami, on the other hand, uncharacteristically coughed up the ball 17 times.  During the postseason, Erik Spoelstra’s seasoned bunch has been able to keep possessions, not giving up many points off turnovers.  The Heat rank first in the playoffs in that category, only turning it over 10.9 times per game.

“You can’t control shots going in, it’s a make or miss league,” James said.  “I think turnovers [will be the key to Game 6] for sure.”  You can control them.  We’re gonna have some, we’re an attack team, we’re gonna have some attack turnovers.  But, we had some careless turnovers, some of the swing passes, some entry passes where we were careless with it and allowed them to get into the open floor.  Those are some of the things we need to clean up.”

The fourth quarter — when crunchtime happens — is when Paul George entered the building.  21 of his 37 points occurred in the fourth, with the crowd rallying behind Indiana to try to extend their season.

It’s not so much that George has shrunk when the fourth quarter comes around, it’s just that he hasn’t had that superstar will to attack with ferocity when it matters in this series.  He upended all the bashing he received for Games 3 and 4, by one of the most remarkable performances in Bankers Life Fieldhouse’s short history.

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In order to return to the arena he set ablaze this coming Sunday (Game 7), George and the Pacers can’t fall on their face in South Beach.

For the most part of the night, the ball movement was lackluster, and unenthusiastic.  Roy Hibbert said pre-game he was going to come out with a scoring mentality, and that’s normally great to hear from one of your most prized possessions.  Until Indiana stops playing inside-out, and becomes so hellbent on getting looks from post-up sequences that they go away from the outside attack.  Frank Vogel preaches “balance,” and that’s the only way they’ll find themselves fighting for their lives in a Game 7.

Miami’s ball movement is the model that the Pacers need to aim for, in a win-or-go-home Game 6 …. and for the future they have together:

Wade, who is 5-of-12 from long range in this series, has the ability to knock down perimeter jumpers, he just chooses to take closer, easier looks.  Although, a ton of mediocre shooters in today’s game can knock down bombs when they step into their shot, get in rhythm, and have a team that moves the ball to the likes of Miami.

Chalmers is the key in the situation above, as he has been able to penetrate to the rim — on nearly every team Miami has cruised through in the playoffs — and cause havoc on the defensive end for the Pacers.  The dish to Bosh in the left corner sends George Hill into scavenge mode, and he attracts Stephenson as well when he puts the ball on the floor to get to the rim.  Miami’s talent level is so much larger than Indiana’s when it comes to scoring, that you can rarely ever trust one-on-one coverage.

It causes problems for Indiana, and smiles for Miami.  Bosh, being smart enough not to force anything, kicks it out to James at the top of the key.  Notice how long of a closeout that is for George, and Stephenson, who doesn’t even attempt to get back because he has no time.  It leaves Wade open for the trey, and he’s not shying away from it.  I wonder neither, if they’re giving it to you.  It’s not even just Wade, the Pacers hang off shooters way too much against this team, one that leads the playoffs in 3-point percentage (39.3 percent).  If anything similar to the perimeter massacre Indiana suffered happens on Friday in Game 6, this season is a wrap.

There’s only one team that has the right to be confident, and that’s Miami.  Until you win on the road, you haven’t earned the “champions” title next to your name.  There’s only been one road win in this series.  Take a guess who has it.

As for Stephenson’s ear blowing and trying to rattle James, do whatever you need to do to stay rowdy, but it better translate to the on-court performance.

“I blew in my wife’s ear before,” James said with a smirk.

Your move, Pacers …. again.

 

Shane Young is an NBA credentialed writer for 8 Points, 9 Seconds and HoopsHabit.com.   For all Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, or general NBA coverage, follow @YoungNBA and @HoopsHabit on Twitter.

 

 

 

Tags: Indiana Pacers Lance Stephenson Lebron James Paul George Rashard Lewis Roy Hibbert

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