The 2013 NBA playoffs continue to rage on, as the Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers by a score of 90-79 in Game 5 of their physical 2013 Eastern Conference Finals series Thursday. With the win, the Heat moved ahead by a slim, but commanding, 3-2 series lead.
The question is, what adjustments do the Pacers need to make to force a Game 7?
Indiana wasn't far from victory in Game 5, leading entering halftime and nearly recovering from a third-quarter meltdown. This is yet another example of Indiana being in the game until the end, as it lost on an overtime buzzer-beater in Game 1.
Can the Indiana Pacers force Game 7?
With that being said, competing and actually contending for a title are feathers from a different bird.
Thus far, Indiana has looked like a title team at times, but it's also fallen into dry spells during the least opportune moments. Its lack of depth is an issue, but at times, there have been self-inflicted wounds, as its youth shines through—both from the coaches and players.
Fortunately, there are alterations Indiana can make to extend this series.
From changes in its playing style to alterations in its general positioning, Indiana has decisions to make. Not only are the Pacers in line to lose their season, but they are also in a rare position, as they control their own fate.
These adjustments could save their season.
Lance Stephenson on LeBron James
At times during this series, even for extensive periods, the Pacers have put Lance Stephenson on LeBron James. When they've opted to take Paul George off of the MVP, the results have been strong on both ends.
So why turn back now?
No one is going to lock down LeBron, but Stephenson has been able to slow him down in the post. According to ESPN Stats & Info, James shot just 20 percent out of the post in Game 4 with Stephenson or Sam Young guarding him.
He made 55.5 percent in the post in Game 3 by dominating George.
The key here isn't what LeBron does offensively, but instead what George has been able to do without the taxing nature of defending James on every play. Such was evident in Game 5, as George went off for 27 points and 11 rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting from the floor.
As for what it takes to make LeBron more one-dimensional, that all comes down to Roy Hibbert.
Hibbert vs. LeBron: Minute for Minute
If the Indiana Pacers are going to avoid a complete and utter meltdown, they'll need to match LeBron's minutes with Hibbert's. In other words, when LeBron is on the floor, Frank Vogel must trust his center and place him in there with him.
As for why, it's all in the numbers.
LeBron James not faring well on mid-range jumpers in the conference finals. A closer look at his shooting chart pic.twitter.com/AA7HmQPZfC— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 30, 2013
It's safe to say that Hibbert is serving his purpose as a rim-protector.
If LeBron is going to beat the Pacers, which is a genuine possibility, Indiana must force him to do so as a jump shooter. While he may be far more confident shooting mid-range jumpers at this stage in his career, Indiana has the length necessary to contest his shots.
Hibbert just so happens to be the influential force to make that happen.
LeBron James' Drives Prior to Game 5
|Hibbert On the Floor||Hibbert Off the Floor|
All statistics provided by ESPN Stats & Info.
The Pacers must make a concerted effort to keep LeBron out of the paint. If they're able to do so, they can force James into significantly less efficient shots and trust their perimeter players to step up when it matters most.
Perhaps most important of all, they can prevent James from working the drive-and-dish with such proficiency.
Continue to Harass Bosh and Wade
Chris Bosh cannot score against Roy Hibbert unless he's shooting long, low-percentage jump shots. Dwyane Wade's knee injury is limiting his mobility, and Stephenson's frantic style of play has bothered Wade at times.
With all of this being known, the Pacers must not let Udonis Haslem's two games of brilliance alter their focus—the Heat still live and die by the Big Three.
Indiana does an excellent job of defending the perimeter, as it held opponents to 32.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc during the regular season. That number was good for first in the NBA and proves that Miami's three-point shooting woes are no fluke.
Indiana has defending the three-ball down to an art.
This beckons the question that we simply cannot help but ask. If the Pacers have been dominant on defense and boast the ideal personnel to slow down the Big Three, why are they losing?
To put it simply, they're letting everyone else beat them, and thus approaching the game in the perfect way—they simply aren't executing on offense.
Fixing Offensive Woes
The scores of Game 3 and Game 5 differed greatly, but the stories of each game were nearly identical.
Three players showed up on offense, the rest of the team failed to get the memo.
In Game 3, Roy Hibbert, David West and George Hill combined for 60 points. West and Hill each shot 50 percent from the field, while Hibbert hit 12-of-15 from the free-throw line.
The rest of the team shot 34.3 percent from the field.
In Game 5, Hibbert, West and Paul George scored a collective 66 on a combined 53.1 percent shooting from the field. Unfortunately, the rest of the team scored 13 combined points.
I repeat, the other six players who saw at least eight minutes—and four had more than 16 minutes—tallied a total of 13 points.
Miami deserves praise for coming through when it needed to, but there's no way around how poorly the Pacers played. They had countless opportunities to come back in Game 5, and they let Game 3 get away from them because of their poor bench play.
So what must the Pacers do to defend their home court? How can they push Miami to the edge and force a Game 7?
They need their five starters to step up as a collective offensive unit, like in Game 4 when they all scored at least 12 points.