NBA Playoffs: Keys for the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals
The Indiana Pacers are set to battle against the Miami Heat in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. Both teams have similar rosters as last postseason, but there has also been a few key role players added to each respective team that has helped them get to this point in the playoffs.
After leading the series 2-1, the Pacers were outmatched as the Heat battled back to take the series, 4-2. Miami is much better this year than any previous year during the Big Three era.
If the Pacers want to overcome the defending champions, they will need to play a perfect series and limit the mistakes that they were accustomed to making in the series against the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks.
This slideshow will evaluate the keys to the Pacers' success against the Heat and how they could utilize their advantages to the fullest extent.
Dominate the Boards
One of the Pacers biggest advantages over most Eastern Conference opponents is their size and rebounding ability down low.
It's not a surprise that the Pacers have been doing so well rebounding the ball, as they possess six different players on their roster who average eight or more rebounds per 36 minutes, as per Basketball Reference.
On the other hand, the Heat's lack of interior size has hurt their rebounding potential all year. They're only 21st in the league in rebounding rate, and only two Heat players average more than eight rebounds per 36 minutes—three if you include Joel Anthony, who has seen a total of 17 minutes in the playoffs thus far.
Limit 3-Point Opportunities
It's no secret that the Heat are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the league.
According to Team Rankings, the Heat are ranked second in the entire league in three-point shooting percentage and third in the league in three-point shots made per game. The three-point shot has been a huge part of the Heat offense for the past few years now, and they cannot be stopped if everyone's hitting their shots.
Fortunately, the Pacers maintain one of the best—if not the best—defenses in the league. They're first in the league in opponent's three-point percentage, holding opposing teams to 33 percent from beyond the arc.
One of the Pacers' biggest strengths is also one of the Heat's biggest strengths. It will come down to whether or not the Pacers can defend the Heat's onslaught of three-pointers throughout the series.
Feed the Big Men
While the Pacers are eliminating the Heat's three-point opportunities, they must attack them on offense through their big men.
Roy Hibbert and David West will be the team's most important players on offense. They're physically bigger and stronger than the Heat's front line, and that's where the Pacers have the biggest advantage.
For the Pacers, the game will be won in the paint. They won't be able to beat the Heat at their own game, which is spreading the floor to penetrate the lane and dish out to wide open three-point shooters.
The Pacers are third in offensive rebounding rate, securing 30.4 percent of the total rebounds available as offensive rebounds. Offensive putbacks will be a large part of the Pacers' scoring output, so they need to take advantage of their interior size for it to happen.
Slow Down LeBron James
This is an obvious one for every team looking to compete against the Heat, but that's just what they have to do.
LeBron James makes the entire Heat offense run. Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller would not get those wide open three-pointers in the corners if it wasn't for James sucking in the defense and creating those opportunities.
As good as the Heat are at shooting threes, the Pacers' primary focus on defense should be preventing James from getting easy baskets for the rest of his team. They must suffocate James with a stingy team defensive effort, because one player cannot stop him.
Paul George will be the primary defender on James, and it's a luxury that the Pacers have someone like George who could match up nicely against the best player in the world, but it will take a complete team effort to neutralize James.