The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat will square off one last time this year in a winner-take-all Game 7 for the chance to play in the 2013 NBA Finals.
But there are a couple of questions that need to be answered that will ultimately determine which team advances to take on the San Antonio Spurs and which team spends the next two weeks sitting at home, watching on TV.
The Heat will have home-court advantage for the series finale, but the never-say-die Pacers won’t let that be a factor. Indiana has already won once on Miami’s floor this series, and the Pacers will give it their all in order to avoid elimination once again.
Miami had the opportunity to finish off Indiana in Game 6, but LeBron James and the Heat had no answer for the surging Pacers. Will Miami be able to defend their title in the Finals, or will the Pacers be attempting to win their first NBA championship?
The following are factors that will determine Game 7’s victor and the champion of the Eastern Conference.
Which Dwyane Wade Will Show Up?
The Heat don’t need Chris Bosh to play like an All-Star in order to defeat the Pacers in Game 7, but they do need Dwyane Wade to step it up. Wade has been non-existent throughout the entire series, and another poor performance could mean the end of Miami’s hopes of repeating as NBA champions.
Wade was fine in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals, scoring 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting. He’s gotten worse and worse ever since. Wade only contributed 10 points in Game 5 and Game 6, shooting 37.5 and 27.3 percent, respectively, in each.
Wade’s postseason in general has been a disaster. In 35.1 minutes per game, he’s only averaging 13.6 points on 44.8 percent shooting. That’s coming from an MVP-caliber player that was scoring at least 20 points per night during the regular season while shooting 52.1 percent.
If Wade isn’t going to make shots from the field or from downtown, the least he could do for his teammates is hit free throws, but even that has been an adventure. He only shot 72.5 percent from the charity stripe during the season—which isn’t great—but has been even colder against Indiana in the playoffs.
Wade is 18-of-27 in the Eastern Conference Finals, which works out to 66.7 percent. That’s unacceptable.
James is a fantastic player, but his back is going to crumble if he has to carry Miami one more time. Wade and James must work as a tandem to put an end to the Pacers’ run. If Wade fails to show up for Game 7, the Heat are going to have trouble being victorious.
Who Wins the Boards?
The Pacers have out-rebounded the Heat in every game this series and have a 262-201 lead on the glass thus far. It’s safe to say that Indiana would not be in a position to upset the Heat in this series if it wasn’t rebounding like it has been the last six games.
Roy Hibbert and David West have been the two biggest contributors, as they’ve manhandled any other big man looking to grab a missed shot. Hibbert is averaging 10.8 rebounds per game while West has averaged 9.3. No player on the Heat is averaging more than 7.2 per game.
What’s important is that while Hibbert and West aren’t grabbing every rebound, they’re making it difficult for anyone on the Heat to do anything. Chris Bosh has started at center each game, but only has 22 rebounds in the series. Udonis Haslem has 24 boards in six starts. Joel Anthony has played sporadically as a backup big man, but only has nine boards.
Sure, the Heat have been able to win games despite getting out-rebounded, but they can do even more damage and earn a trip to the Finals if Miami can box out and snag missed shots.
Bosh needs to stop being afraid to get physical down low and must do whatever it takes to make things difficult for Hibbert and West on the glass.
Simply put, the more rebounds a team gets, the more opportunities it has to score. The Pacers have stayed alive through rebounding, and if they don’t get at least 40 rebounds in Game 7, it’s going to be difficult to pull off a fourth victory over Miami, especially on the road.
Is Paul George the Real Deal?
Paul George has been a force throughout this series and has given the Heat plenty of headaches. He’s averaging 21.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 41.3 minutes per game in the series’ first six games. His teammates have continued to praise him.
Here’s what Hibbert said about George after Indiana’s Game 6 win, according to Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today: “He’s the future [...]. He has a chance to be MVP of this league next year.”
It’s still much too early to be talking about next year’s MVP, but George has been incredible and that’s the point that I think Hibbert was trying to make. George, the 2012-13 Most Improved Player, had a great regular season and has been the leader for the Pacers.
He forced overtime with a miraculous, buzzer-beating three-pointer in Game 1 of the series. He dunked over Bosh in Game 6. He’s scored a lot and made a bunch of great plays in between.
The Pacers’ star forward has had at least 20 points in four games while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from downtown. If the Heat can stop George, they have a great shot at winning. But if George continues to play like he has, Miami should be on alert.
Game 7 Prediction: Pacers 98, Heat 93