Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat: Game 7 Preview, TV Info and Predictions
Six games of back-and-forth, hard-hitting basketball and the Eastern Conference Finals is down to the final 48 minutes.
It's the best possible scenario for any series as entertaining as this one has been, and with the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers both proving that they're capable of forcing their style of play, there's no other way to look at this one than a coin flip.
Miami won Games 1, 3 and 5 by upping the tempo, getting solid contributions from multiple members of the team and showing off at least stretches of the offense that made them such an amazing team during the regular season.
Indiana's Game 2, 4 and 6 were pristine examples of what their defense is capable of. Roy Hibbert's dominance in the paint formed the basis for a solid defensive attack, while across-the-board offensive contributions from the starting five allowed them to pace the Heat.
Both teams have shown up with some variation of an upper-hand in nearly every game; very rarely has an entire game been one-sided.
So who has the upper-hand for Game 7, which style of play will end up seeping through and who will represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals?
Time: Monday, June 3, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami
Series: Tied, 3-3
Key Story Line: The Big One
The Indiana Pacers have risen to the challenge against a Miami Heat team that seriously threatened the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers' NBA record 33-game winning streak.
How have they done it? By proving that a team-wide front on defense along with a united offensive front can shut down a good portion of what made the Heat great.
Options two and three for the Heat, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, are suddenly finding every point more difficult to get down and every defensive possession more difficult to stay strong for a full 24 seconds.
Wade is averaging 14.5 points on 44.2 percent shooting (down 6.7 points and nearly eight percent from the regular season), while Bosh is averaging just 11.3 points on 41.1 percent from the floor (down 5.3 points and over 12 percent from the regular season).
Neither player has scored more than 20 points in a single game of this series, and Bosh is averaging a pitiful 3.7 rebounds per game.
That leaves LeBron James on an island of his own way out ahead of the rest of his suddenly banged-up, neutralized teammates.
At 28.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists on 51.6 percent shooting and 43.8 percent from the three-point line, he really has been forced to awaken the old Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron, doing a huge portion of the work by himself.
Barring a surprising turnaround from Bosh and Wade, or a huge game from somebody else, Miami needs this approach to work for just one more game. At least then they'll have some time to bide before they have to figure out how to make things work against the San Antonio Spurs.
Series Star So Far: LeBron James
Roy Hibbert has blown away the Heat in the post, Paul George is transforming into a star player from the perimeter, David West has been a picking-and-popping, defensive dominating monster, yet the Pacers have put forth a balanced attack.
Every single Pacers starter can be credited as the best player at least once in the past six games.
However, LeBron has been the go-to guy for the Heat in five out of the series' six games. He didn't dominate Game 3, but he was still the team's leading scorer.
We've looked at the stats, but what really points to LeBron's greatness in the past six games is looking at how the rest of his team has struggled.
Wade and Bosh have struggled, that much is obvious so far, but the rest of the team has seen more downs than ups.
Ray Allen is shooting below 30 percent from the three-point line, Shane Battier has made just two of 15 three-pointers and Norris Cole is back to being all defense and absolutely no offense after a solid series against the Chicago Bulls.
The only two members of the Heat you can point to who have had any form of consistency are Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen.
'Rio has become the team's most reliable spot-up shooter (he's at 46 percent on the series), and is doing a good job of getting to the rack, while Birdman has yet to miss a shot.
It's actually intriguing, LeBron went to Miami so he wouldn't have to wait for a front office to get him help; now it's what he needs more than anything else.
Projected Starting Lineups
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers (PG), Dwyane Wade (SG), LeBron James (SF), Udonis Haslem (PF), Chris Bosh (C)
Indiana Pacers: George Hill (PG), Lance Stephenson (SG), Paul George (SF), David West (PF), Roy Hibbert (C)
Injury Report (Via CBSSports.com)
No Injuries Reported
Danny Granger, out (Knee)
Miami Wins If...
LeBron's doesn't have to be Miami's "Big One."
Don't take this the wrong way. The Heat can win with just James dominating the game. He can go out Monday night and score 35, 40 or even 50 points and carry Miami into the NBA Finals whether they want to or not.
Have we all forgotten the time that he played one-on-five with the Detroit Pistons back in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007?
However, relying on that happening is a bit of a risk.
What they really need is at least one of the "Big Three" to step up, as they were created to dominate alongside LeBron and prove that they weren't a one-man show.
The argument has come up that neither Bosh nor Wade is playing "that bad" in the postseason. While that's definitely true, they're both playing terrible when compared to the regular season.
We saw it for the final three seasons that LeBron spent in Cleveland: even the best players of all-time need a reliable sidekick to help them out.
If James gets a sidekick in Game 7, go ahead and start cutting promos for the Heat-Spurs Finals.
Indiana Wins If...
They own the pace.
The Heat averaged 102.9 points per game throughout the regular season. In this series they're down to 94.8 per game.
Not only that, the past three games of the series has seen them score 92, 90 and 77 points, two of which were losing efforts.
There's a simple reason why the Heat have struggled to score in all but two games so far: Indiana's defense is perfectly designed to control the pace against the Heat.
With Hibbert and West in the post for the majority of the game, the isolation breakdowns and drives to the rim from LeBron are fewer and farther between.
Indiana's quick backcourt of Hill, Stephenson and George gives them incredible closeout speed on three-pointers, and a terrific ability to limit fast-break opportunities so the Heat are at least putting up contested shots.
By taking away virtually every strength Miami has on offense, the Heat are forced to slow down and try to break the Pacers down in more of a half-court style, which isn't what they're used to.
Should Indiana control the pace with the same forceful effort that they did in the past three games, they should be looking at their first NBA Finals since 2000.
Prediction: Miami Heat 95, Indiana Pacers 89
Home-court advantage has to be good for something, right?
As surprising as it seems, even after they won 37 of their last 39 games and lost just one game in the first two rounds of the playoffs, this one is as close to a coin flip as they come.
Who wins Game 7?
Picking one team isn't discounting the other; it's just that somebody has to win this series, and the Heat have one thing that the Pacers don't: LeBron James.
Sometimes it's not enough to have the best player in the series to win a single game, but the best player on the face of the planet can certainly sway a game, if he is indeed just that.
Without going too far into superlatives, clichés and giving more credence to the story rather than the game, the biggest advantage one team has over the other is LeBron's presence.
Is that enough? We'll find that out on Monday night.
All stats come from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.
What is the duplicate article?
Why is this article offensive?
Where is this article plagiarized from?
Why is this article poorly edited?