We're only four games in, but the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers series has pretty much already had "everything."
We've seen one star—Paul George—begin his transformation into superstar. We've seen an already superstar—LeBron James—flex his muscles in spectacular fashion down the stretch. We've seen far too much of Joey Crawford.
All-in-all, three of the four games have been classics, and in what has been a fairly stale postseason save for Steph Curry and a few other moments, this series has been phenomenal in every which way possible.
Let's take a look at what each team can do moving forward to keep the play at a scintillating level.
Note: All stats courtesy of NBA.com unless noted otherwise
Miami: Don't Overreact
The Miami Heat haven't faced adversity like this all year. They won 66 games during the regular season, went 37-3 in their last 40 games, swept the poor Milwaukee Bucks by an average of 14.7 points and gentlemen-swept the Chicago Bulls.
Clearly, something is working for Erik Spoelstra's squad.
And that something is a relatively small, ultra-athletic, versatile lineup.
Now, with the way the first four games of this series have played out, that may not seem like the most genius idea. Miami's lack of presence inside has turned Roy Hibbert into Shaquille Abdul Walton, while the Pacers have pulled down a staggering 56.4 percent of the available rebounds.
At times, he almost looks like a still-in-shape gym teacher against a bunch of third graders:
But while the Heat are getting mostly eviscerated inside, that's not the sole reason they've split the first four games. In fact, an inside presence has been their weakness for most of the season—they finished 22nd in the league in rebounding percentage.
Moreover, let's take a closer look at their five most common lineups this series:
|Lineup||GP||Min||Off Rtg||Def Rtg||Net Rtg||Reb%|
|Chalmers, Wade, James, Haslem, Bosh||4||58||119.7||116.8||2.9||43.8|
|Cole, Allen, Battier, James, Anderson||4||28||122.8||101.8||21.0||31.9|
|Chalmers, Allen, Wade, James, Bosh||2||16||108.4||94.9||13.6||33.3|
|Cole, Wade, Battier, James, Bosh||2||12||91.4||103.4||-12.0||42.1|
|Cole, Allen, Wade, Battier, Anderson||4||10||79.7||83.2||-3.5||41.7|
Miami's two most efficient lineups have two noticeable things in common: LeBron is essentially playing the 4, and they are getting horribly out-rebounded.
The point is, Miami can win while getting beat on the glass. It can win with a small lineup, even with Hibbert having such a terrific series.
More importantly than over-tinkering and trying to put on a huge lineup, the Heat need to play aggressive defense, force turnovers, get in transition and utilize the strengths of their unique "small" lineup.
They need to continue being themselves.
Indiana: Continue Playing Lance Stephenson as Much as Possible
Paul George and Roy Hibbert have unquestionably been the stars, but Lance Stephenson is who makes the Pacers tick.
It's extremely difficult to find something that the former bench-warming, choke-signaling guard doesn't do.
He gets to the hoop. He knocks down three-pointers—and not just regular three-pointers, but buzzer-beating three-pointers that make women go weak at the knees:
He brings consistent energy and aggressiveness on a nightly basis, and his willingness to contribute in every way imaginable makes him the perfect role player.
As reported by Grantland's Charles P. Pierce, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel summed up Stephenson's worth:
“When he’s bad,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said, “we typically struggle. When he’s good, we’re pretty darn good. I mean that’s the simplest way to put it, and it’s very accurate. He’s the barometer.”
The stats back up his immense value, too. During this series, Stephenson leads the Pacers with an average plus/minus of plus-7.0.
The next highest on the team?
David West, with a plus-2.8.
When Stephenson is on the court, the Pacers are averaging 115.1 points per 100 possessions (compared to an average of 111.3) and allowing 105.0 (compared to an average of 110.9).
The 22-year-old guard has the tendency to make head-scratching decisions at times, but overall, he is having an impact on this team that can't be matched.
He needs to be on the court as much as possible.