For the second consecutive year, the Miami Heat won a pivotal Game 3 matchup against the Indiana Pacers. Miami won both times in the face of a raucous capacity crowd after losing Game 2 and its coveted home-court advantage.
But unlike the previous two games in this series, which featured two nail-biting finishes, the Heat left little doubt as to which team was superior. Miami raced out to a 14-point halftime advantage, then buried the young Pacers in the second half for an 18-point victory.
Now, the Heat hold a 2-1 series lead with an even more important Game 4 looming on Tuesday. Let us examine five trends from Game 3 that will continue into Game 4.
One reason LeBron James and the Miami Heat were able to push around the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 was due to their dominance in the paint.
Entering Sunday night's game, Miami held a 12-point advantage in points in the paint, according to ESPN.com. The Heat then added to its edge near the basket by outscoring the Pacers 52-36 in the painted area.
According to NBA.com sortable playoff statistics, James, who averages 13 points per game in the paint, now ranks ahead of all players who have played 12 games or more in the 2013 Playoffs, including Zach Randolph and Roy Hibbert.
NBA.com's Steve Aschburner quoted James after the Heat's victory:
“I made a conscious effort to sit down in the post tonight, try to put pressure on the defense,” James said, his 22-point, four-rebound, three-assist game more monstrous than monster. “Spo and the coaching staff wanted me to be down there and my teammates allowed me to do that.”
The Heat's game plan to establish its inside game early in order keep the Pacers on their heels and squelch the crowd noise proved very successful.
Expect Miami to go inside early and often in Game 4.
Arguably the biggest wild card in the Eastern Conference Finals has been the "Birdman" himself, Chris Andersen.
In a word, Andersen has been, well, nearly perfect.
Against Indiana, the colorfully tattooed 6'10" power forward has not missed a single shot he has taken from the field and has missed once from the free throw line.
In fact, dating back to Miami's Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls, Andersen has connected on 15 consecutive field goal attempts and has made an equally impressive eight out of nine free throws during the same span.
The 10-year NBA veteran has been everywhere on the court; blocking shots, throwing down dunks after catching passes in the lane and generally playing his disruptive style of basketball.
There is little doubt that Andersen will be a big factor for the Heat when Miami takes the floor on Tuesday night.
This trend is not one that developed during Game 3, but rather continued from the regular season where Indiana ranked as one of the league's top rebounding teams.
As of Monday, the Pacers stand as the postseason leader in rebounds per game and offensive rebounds per game, after finishing the regular season as the league's best team in the former, according to NBA.com sortable statistics.
In Game 3, Indiana picked up where it left off, holding a plus-nine advantage over Miami in total rebounds and grabbing 12 more offensive rebounds than the Heat.
The Pacers were not able to overcome a poor shooting night Sunday, which prevented them from parlaying their rebounding supremacy into a win.
But Indiana holds a distinctive advantage over Miami in turning 50/50 balls into second-chance points; the Pacers are tops in the postseason with 16 second-chance points per game.
One of the many reasons the Miami Heat are a difficult match up for their opposition is its depth.
That depth has been on display throughout the playoffs, especially in recent games against the Pacers.
Through three games of the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami's bench has outscored Indiana's 72-39, with the most significant contributions coming from Chris Andersen.
In Game 3, the Heat reserves boosted its team's offense with 28 points. Norris Cole, Shane Battier, Ray Allen and Andersen each scored at least five points, taking the pressure off of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in the process.
Miami's chances of winning Game 3 improved exponentially when starter Udonis Haslem tallied 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
Now in a seemingly must-win situation for the Pacers, it would be logical to assume that the Heat's bench players will leave their mark on Game 4, much as they have done throughout the series against Indiana.
Facing a crucial Game 3 on the road, after having arguably been outplayed in Games 1 and 2 at home, was a natural time for the Miami Heat to feel pressure.
By halftime, however, it seemed as though any pressure the Heat was feeling was gone.
The same nerves and stunned silence that filled AmericanAirlines Arena after Game 2 traveled from Miami to Indiana, spreading into the sellout crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and eventually to the Pacers' bench, as the Heat once again answered the bell in a must-win scenario.
It is once again the Heat who have the mental edge in the series. Coupled with their talent and experience, Miami is in prime position to overwhelm the Pacers and send the series back to South Beach, one win away from the team's third-consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Now with its confidence fully restored, and its opponent staggering, the Heat will fully seize momentum in Game 4 on the heels of a demoralizing win in Game 3.