Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers will be decided by some intriguing trends from the previous two games.
Indiana didn’t play defense on LeBron James at the end of Game 1, which caused it to lose. In Game 2, though, Indiana—mainly David West—played great defense and came away with a series-tying victory. Not to say that Indiana’s defense will determine the series’ winner, but it will be important.
There are a couple of other things to look for in Game 3, and I’m here to share those with you.
LeBron James Will Have More Turnovers Than Assists
The pair of turnovers by James in the final minute of Game 2 ended Miami’s hopes of heading to Indiana with a two-game lead in the series.
But what really hurt the Heat was that he wasn’t very efficient with the basketball throughout the game.
In Game 2, James had just three assists while turning the ball over five times. It was the fewest assists he had all postseason and the first time his turnover total exceeded his assist total since March 27 against the Chicago Bulls—the loss that ended Miami’s 27-game winning streak.
James averaged 7.3 assists and 3.0 turnovers per game during the regular season. His 2.44 assist-to-turnover ratio was the 28th best in the NBA, according to ESPN. But in the playoffs, James has been much more careless. His assist-to-turnover ratio has gotten worse, dropping to 1.95.
The Pacers have played great defense against James, even though he’s scored at least 30 points in each of the series’ opening two games. They’ve forced him to commit nine turnovers to just 13 assists. That gives James a 1.44 assist-to-turnover ratio in the Eastern Conference Finals, which isn’t good at all.
Bench Play Will Decide Game for Indiana
The Pacers managed to escape Miami with just one loss, which could prove to be enormous later in the series. But Indiana wouldn’t have won without the play of its starting lineup. Indiana’s bench scored just five of the team’s 97 points.
With the starters accounting for 94.8 percent of the Pacers’ points, Indiana now has the second-highest percentage of starters’ points of any team this postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN). That’s a remarkable percentage, but one that will definitely be lower in Game 3.
In Game 1, Indiana’s bench scored 18 points—or around 18 percent of Indiana’s points. Tyler Hansbrough scored 10 while D.J. Augustin scored eight. In order to win their first Eastern Conference Finals, the Pacers are going to have to rely more on those not starting the game.
Paul George has been called for eight fouls in the first two games, while Roy Hibbert has been called for nine. In Game 1, every Pacers starter had at least four fouls. If Indiana keeps getting into foul trouble, the bench will have to step up. Whether it does or not will determine whether Indiana is up or down 2-1 in the series.
Poor Free-Throw Shooting Will Lose Game for Heat
During the regular season, the Heat weren’t the best team from the charity stripe. Collectively, Miami players shot 75.4 percent from the free-throw line, the 16th-highest in the NBA.
In the postseason, Miami has been worse, shooting 73.6 percent.
Miami will not win this series and get a chance to repeat as NBA champions if it continues to shoot poorly from the free-throw line. It’s that simple. In Game 1 against the Pacers, the Heat shot 16-of-25. In Game 2, they went 18-of-26. Combined, that’s roughly 67 percent.
The Game 1 blame can be put on James and Dwyane Wade, who combined to go 5-of-11 from the charity stripe. In Game 2, they were better at 7-of-10. But the rest of the team wasn’t very good either. Seven Heat players were awarded foul shots and all but two missed at least one shot.
As long as the Pacers stay out of severe foul trouble, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to put the Heat on the line. The statistics show that Miami probably isn’t going to be very successful, and a missed free throw—or several—could be the difference between the Pacers winning Game 3 and losing.