Entering this series, nobody gave the Indiana Pacers even a glimmer of hope for knocking off "King" James and the Miami Heat. The basketball gods were all backing the Heat and its star trio, but I didn't fully understand why everyone thought the Heat would sweep the Pacers. I recognize the talent that the Heat have built in South Beach, but the Pacers had a true height advantage, not just with their bigs, but also with their position players.
Defensively, the Pacers could match up in terms of height against all players on the Heat, with guys like a 6-8 Paul George guarding Dwayne Wade. Outside the big three, the Heat isn't a necessarily strong team with a lot of older, experienced role players who are trying to win a championship. The downside to that is you are playing against a team of young, energized players who are being told that they have no chance of playing with the Heat.
Going forward with the injury to Bosh, this shifts the entire matchup to one that I feel favors the Pacers. The Heat showed Tuesday night that without that third scorer it can be beaten, and furthermore it will not be able to steamroll over the Pacers. The Heat is now extremely undersized in this series with Hibbert and West upfront for the Pacers, and with an extremely deep bench with a rotation of ten guys, the Pacers have to be seen as the favorites to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals.
As I mentioned before, there is an extreme size mismatch in this series without Bosh in the lineup. With James having to move to the four and split time defending West and Granger, it is going to take a lot out of the self-proclaimed King. James isn't used to banging inside and fighting for position through every possession, something that the bigs of the Pacers love to do.
Hibbert is now the most important player in this series. As one of the last true centers in basketball, his presence will be felt on the basketball court in the upcoming games in Indianapolis. The 7'2" center from Georgetown will be very busy on the block as the Pacers will start to slow the game down and run their offense through him to wear down the Heat and get high percentage looks.
If the duo of West and Hibbert can start to assert their dominance on this series, Spoelstra will have to make the adjustment of running James on West at all times, and that will lead to Granger getting a favorable matchup that he will be able to exploit.
While the Pacers might not have a sold out arena every night for the regular season (29th in attendance), the playoffs will be sold out and there will be fans who are loud and want to see LeBron lose. The Pacers taking a game from Miami in its arena was a huge lift for this team and can bring forward a complete change in this series if the Pacers can hold home court in the next two games.
If Indiana can pull off these next two games in Indianapolis, it will hold a 3-1 series lead and need only one of the last three games, and one of those is back in Indiana. One cannot stress how important tonight's Game 3 is for the Pacers in asserting home court against the Heat. Look for another low scoring battle where the Pacers will go inside early and often.
In a low scoring Game 2, the Pacers bench provided 18 points. On the opposite side of the floor, the entire Heat team outside of James and Wade scored 24 points. The Pacers have an extremely deep rotation which gives them a huge advantage to keep putting fresh legs on the task to guard Wade and James.
Not only does the Pacers defense bring a spark to this team, but also the players' hustle and bursts of offense are much welcomed to the starters. Hansbrough, Barbosa and Collison all can contribute a double digit scoring performance on any given day.
Along with the starting five, this makes eight different guys who can get it done offensively. In Game 2, the Heat's third highest scorer had five points, showing that there isn't much to fear from Miami outside of Wade and James.
Look for the Pacers to continue to exert efforts to shut down Wade and James and to make the rest of the Miami roster beat them in the rest of the series.
The Indiana Pacers are as non-NBA as an NBA team can get. By this, I mean that the Pacers play a very old-school methodical style of basketball that is very similar to the college game.
Indiana might not have had much national attention during the season because it does not have a whole lot of flash. However, the Pacers model their play (that looks like it is from another era of basketball) from when their Executive of the Year, Larry Bird, played for the Celtics.
This is a team led by its starters, however, its bench can also come on and play huge roles. One of the biggest steals of the season might have come when the Pacers dealt for Barbosa at the trade deadline, giving them a solid offensive minded backup for only a second round pick. This trade has been crucial to the success of the team, given that it gave this young team another veteran along with David West who has playoff experience.
I imagine that this is the look LeBron gets when Spoelstra asks him if he wants the last shot. All jokes aside, the Heat just don't have a chance in this series if LeBron cannot close the game.
His free throw shooting in the last minute of games is dismal, and the fact that the MVP of the league plays hot potato every time he has the ball late in the game shows that he doesn't want the shot. Whether it is psychological or just fear, LeBron cannot be relied on to win the game in the last two minutes.
This means that the Pacers can exert their defensive efforts to put single coverage on LeBron and double Wade, who is the true Superman on this team. Wade is the guy who will kill a team and sneak in and win.
Frank Vogel is smart enough to notice the trends in LeBron's game and to focus his defensive attention towards Wade, who is more than comfortable having the ball in his hands late. The fact of the matter is if Mario Chalmers hits a shot to tie or win the game at the end, you have to be okay with it. If you shut down Wade and James late then you know you are in a position to win the game.