Blueprint for a Indiana Pacers Game 7 Shocker
The answers are all there.
At this point, there are no gimmicks left, no last-second tweaks to make. The Heat and Pacers each know what one another wants to do on both ends, so Game 7 is going to come down to which team finds a way to dictate the terms of the contest.
Right now, the Pacers look like a team that knows what it has to do to eliminate the defending champs. But just in case they need a quick refresher, here goes.
Control the Glass
Rebounding has been a glaring weakness for the Heat all season long, so it's no surprise that the Pacers' dominance on the boards in this series has turned out to be a key. Indiana out-rebounded Miami by a margin of 53-33 in Game 6; David West grabbed 14, Roy Hibbert had 11, and Lance Stephenson had 12.
Those three players alone grabbed more boards than the Heat's entire roster.
For the series, the Pacers have hauled in 56.6 percent of all available rebounds and an incredible 36.6 percent of their own misses. When Indiana controls the boards on both ends, it prevents the Heat from getting out in transition, generating second-chance opportunities underneath and finding shooters on kick-outs in scattered situations.
Basically, the Pacers have forced the Heat to score on their first try on each possession while simultaneously getting multiple chances of their own on the other end. Miami hasn't been a good rebounding team all year, but the Pacers are exploiting the Heat on the boards to an obscene, unprecedented degree.
As Lance Stephenson and George Hill go, so go the Pacers.
In Game 5, Indiana's backcourt duo combined to score just five points in Miami's 90-79 victory. Hill, in particular, looked awful, missing all four of his shots from the field and struggling with his persistently shaky handle whenever pressured.
Stephenson certainly didn't snap out of his scoring funk in Game 6, but he grabbed those dozen rebounds, dished out four assists and defended with a furious intensity. Hill chipped in 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a couple of threes that helped alleviate the collapsing pressure on Hibbert down low.
Coming into Game 6, their effect on Indiana's wins and losses was blatantly obvious.
In @Pacers 2 wins v. MIA, combo of Hill-Stephenson avg. 33.5 PTS w/ an effective FG% of 55.2%. In 3 Losses: 14.3 PTS, 31.0% eFG%— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) June 1, 2013
At this point, the Pacers know what they're going to get from Hibbert, West and Paul George. That trio has been dependable, and oftentimes spectacular. But when Hill and Stephenson also do their part, the Pacers become unstoppable.
Keep the Edge
The Heat were a beaten team in more ways than one at the end of Game 6. Their eyes were downcast, their shoulders sagged, and their heads shook side to side in collective disbelief. In fact, the general malaise that characterized the Miami roster was present throughout the game.
There were exceptions to that rule: Norris Cole played with passion, and James never looked like a defeated man. But the rest of the roster simply didn't look as though it was up to the challenge.
The Pacers are responsible for a great deal of the Heat's defeated demeanor. Indiana played with an edge that the Heat somehow seemed unprepared to match.
On sheer will, West gutted out a game he had no business playing.
David West with a double double playing on fumes and cold medication.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) June 2, 2013
And in another display of real grit, George was constantly on the attack, forcing the issue whenever possible.
The home crowd certainly helped propel the Pacers forward, and there's no doubt that Indiana was the more desperate team (facing elimination tends to have that effect). But attitude, aggression and competitiveness isn't something that should be waxing and waning for the Heat at this stage. Miami could not have been surprised that the Pacers put up such a fight.
Now, as the Pacers head back into Miami for Game 7, it'll be critical that they retain the same edge they showed in Game 6. The Heat will now be the desperate team, fearful of letting a spectacular season slip away on their home court. Indiana has momentum and a freedom from expectations, which are two things the Heat clearly lack.
If the Pacers come into the series' decisive game with a mind to stomp the Heat when they're down, they can absolutely punch their ticket to the NBA Finals.
Defend Like Champions
The Pacers did some incredible things on the defensive end throughout the regular season. Everyone is well aware that they led the league in defensive efficiency by a significant margin. It's also common knowledge now that they've been terrific in the playoffs as well.
But they've been on another level against the Heat.
Heat have been held below 80 points twice this season. Both came vs. the Indiana Pacers.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 2, 2013
Just look at how the Pacers shut down Miami in Game 6, and remind yourself that the Heat had the very best offense in the league during the regular season.
The Pacers have stuck to their principles of denying open three-point looks and making sure every field-goal attempt in the lane comes with the massive Hibbert as a challenger. The strategy has worked all season long, and now it's working against Miami.
There's a great study out there that proved the old idiom that "defense wins championships." The Pacers aren't quite there yet, but there's an awfully good chance that one more game of excellent defense will be good enough to win the Eastern Conference Finals.
Hope Wade and Bosh Stay Invisible
With the combined disappearing act of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Heat's Big Three is down to a Big One. To some degree, the struggles of Miami's supporting stars have been out of the Pacers' hands. Wade is clearly too hurt to contribute on a consistent basis, and Bosh simply hasn't made shots.
But at the same time, the Pacers can definitely continue to exploit the disappointing duo by using their physicality and forcing both of them into uncomfortable positions.
For example, the Pacers have routinely been sagging off of Wade on the perimeter, daring him to try to beat them from the outside. While Indy typically hates to give up looks from beyond the arc, it practically applauds whenever Wade chucks up a three.
Over the past three games of the series, Wade has hit just 11-of-34 from the field and has looked like a shell of his former self.
And Bosh has been much, much worse.
Bosh's scoring the past three games: 7, 7, 3. Might help him in Game 7 if he makes a shot or 2 here.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) June 2, 2013
If the Pacers can continue to beat Bosh up and force a hobbled Wade to try to hit shots he's clearly not capable of hitting, they'll be in excellent shape in Game 7.
Be Ready for the King
This much is clear to James now: He's on his own.
With no help from his supporting cast, LBJ is going to have to summon his best effort to drag his team to the Finals. We've seen enough from James to know that he's more than capable of carrying a team by himself. He proved as much in the third quarter of Game 5 when he outscored the Pacers by himself, 16-13.
When James came to Miami, the whole idea was that he'd no longer have to win games by himself. For a while, he had the help he wanted. But the Pacers have taken Bosh out of the series, Ray Allen has ceased to be effective, Shane Battier has stopped scoring, and Wade is just not right.
Indiana will have to be ready for a desperate performance from James.
Heading into hostile territory against a Heat team that has the best player in the world, the Pacers will have to get just about everything right to advance in Game 7. Fortunately, they've shown throughout this series that they know how to do just that.
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