In a rematch of the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals, the Indiana Pacers managed to dominate the Miami Heat. The 28-19 Pacers improved to 18-3 at home as they secured a 102-89 victory over Miami.
The loss drops Miami to 29-14 overall and 11-11 on the road. Perhaps most importantly, it left the Heat at a rather average 14-9 against the Eastern Conference.
The truth of the matter is, no team has gotten under Miami's skin quite like Indiana.
The Pacers bullied what was believed to be one of the strongest teams in the NBA. They exploited their interior weakness, neutralized the Heat's game plan and created a flow for the game that Miami was forced to abide by.
In what can only be described as a rare occurrence, the Pacers controlled a game against the Heat from start to finish.
To be clear, the Heat remain the top dog in the Eastern Conference and the team to beat in the NBA. They're the reigning NBA champions, and they are led by the best player on the planet.
With that being said, Miami has never been unbeatable, and the Pacers displayed just what is needed to take the Heat down.
Play Them Physical
The Heat are one of the most finesse teams in the NBA. They defeat their opponents via athleticism and skill, all the while finding a way to out-think their opponents.
The key to disrupting this rhythm is playing Miami in a physical manner. No one does that better than the Pacers.
When the Heat's stars take contact, they turn to the referees as quickly as anyone, and physical teams pose problems for them. Even if the calls go Miami's way, playing LeBron James physical is like watching Michael Jordan against the bad-boy Pistons.
If there's any way to get them off their rhythm, it's by playing physical. Perhaps overly physical.
That's exactly what Indiana did, as it muscled Miami en route to a victory. The Pacers sent a message to those entering the lane and played up on ball-handlers.
When Danny Granger returns from injury, expect this style of play to continue.
Eliminate the Fast Break
LeBron and the Heat are at their best when they get out in the open court. James' ball-handling and power enable him to finish in the paint, while his passing ability keeps an opposing defense on its toes.
The only way to neutralize that threat is to eliminate the fast break altogether. Indiana did just that.
By working the ball inside, the Pacers were able to slow the game down and drop their perimeter players into transition D. This eliminated the paint for LeBron and created a systematic approach to taking the trailing shooters out of the game.
With the length of the bigs reaching the shooters just as they found openings, the three-ball was lost for the Heat.
As a result, Miami's transition offense was neutralized, and the Pacers created a half-court game. The Heat only scored six points off of the fast break.
This isn't the first time Indiana has done this. We witnessed the same strategy and results during the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals. The difference then was that the Pacers were unable to get anything going offensively.
Now that they know how to achieve both feats, could Indy be the team to end Miami's reign of terror?
Matched up against a rather weak Heat interior, the Pacers scored 48 points in the paint. David West led the way, scoring 30 points on a very impressive 12-of-15 shooting from the floor.
The Heat's interior defense has been exposed in the past, but teams have an undeniable tendency to begin to play in the same style as Miami come the fourth quarter.
Rather than playing up to the defending champions' standards, Indiana ran its offense in the manner it found fit. Instead of falling into their normal isolation tendencies, the Pacers pounded it down low.
As a result, the Pacers have created the blueprint for getting under the Heat's skin. The key is to take away their comfort zone and play at a slow and pounding pace.
It is then that the Heat are vulnerable.