Thanks in large part to a late fourth-quarter surge from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the Miami Heat were able to knot their Eastern Conference Finals series with the Indiana Pacers at one game apiece.
The production from Miami’s two superstars was huge down the stretch, but one key role player stepped up in a big way.
Chris “Birdman” Andersen finished with a team-high plus/minus of plus-25 in 29 minutes of action. He snatched 12 rebounds (two on the offensive end), which helped Miami limit a big discrepancy on the glass—a key takeaway from Game 1.
LBJ and D-Wade led the way offensively, but Andersen was the catalyst of the team’s second unit.
As for Indiana, Paul George (4-of-16 shooting, 14 points) and David West (5-of-16 shooting, 10 points) struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Those two combined to shoot 62.5 percent in the series opener, but Game 2 played host to a different narrative.
Considering that the Pacers’ inconsistent bench scored a measly nine points, it’s no surprise they didn’t pull off a second straight "W" at home.
Even with Indy’s lackluster offensive showing, however, its defense kept the game close throughout. The Pacers finally appear to be themselves again after a prolonged funk, but who has the edge for Game 3 back in South Beach?
Seeds: Miami No. 2; Indiana Pacers No. 1
Series: Tied 1-1
Schedule for Series: Game 3, Saturday, May 24, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 4, Monday, May 26, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 5, Wednesday, May 28, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 6*, Friday, May 30, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); Game 7*, Sunday, June 1, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Key Storyline for Miami Heat
The Heat avoided a potentially disastrous 0-2 hole by a four-point margin in Game 2. The affair was a low-scoring, gritty, defensive bout.
In theory, that type of game would favor Indiana. Nevertheless, James and Wade made scoring look easy in the closing minutes of the fourth to pull out a much-needed road win.
Can they keep that offensive pace going on their home floor?
That will be a major storyline to look out for on Saturday.
Miami’s defense was completely out of sorts in the 107-96 Game 1 loss. Indiana got all the open looks it could ever ask for and wound up shooting 51.5 percent. Erik Spoelstra’s crew flipped the script while knotting the series in Game 2, as Indy sputtered to a 40 percent clip from the field in the 87-83 loss.
If the Heat can combine their championship-level defensive mentality with aggressive and efficient offense, then they’re going to be extremely difficult to beat.
James and Wade got to the charity stripe a combined 10 times in the last contest. They need to continue attacking the basket to boost those trips.
Roy Hibbert is a dominant rim protector, but Miami can’t be hesitant to make him work.
Key Storyline for Indiana Pacers
What is the health status of Paul George?
The 24-year-old suffered a concussion during Game 2 when he took a blow to the back of his head from D-Wade’s knee. According to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), George told reporters he “blacked out” and had blurred vision after the collision.
Head coach Frank Vogel explained that his star forward skipped practice and participated in non-contact activities. He added he has “no clue” whether the 24-year-old will be able to play in Game 3.
NBA.com’s Scott Agness writes, “He’ll have to follow the NBA-mandated protocol for his return to participation.”
But now, it appears as though he'll be good to go. As revealed by the Pacers themselves, his status for Game 3 looks quite favorable:
George will participate in tomorrow’s shootaround and barring any unforeseen complications, he will play Saturday. http://t.co/KJV41AUND9— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) May 23, 2014
If the All-Star hadn't been able to suit up and play as a result of the concussion, Indiana’s chances of winning the next game would've dwindled close to zero. His impact on both ends of the court has been absolutely huge, as ESPN Stats & Info pointed out via Twitter:
Pacers have outscored opponents by 64 pts with Paul George on court in playoffs... and been outscored by 27 pts with him off court— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2014
After all, the Pacers don’t have a viable replacement outside of Evan Turner. He hasn’t played a single minute in this series, has been dealing with illness and is one of the key scapegoats for Indiana’s apparent issues with team chemistry.
The news that George should play is obviously rather helpful to the cause, but Indy’s still in for a steep uphill climb if he can’t go because of complications or is unable to play like he typically does.
If George is unable to play at full strength in Game 3, Indiana’s X-factor will inevitably be the guy who has to make up for his production.
Assuming he’ll be on the court for the opening tip and remain there as long as he normally does, the biggest wild card will be the second unit for each team.
While the Heat have received big contributions from Andersen, Norris Cole and Ray Allen off their bench, the Pacers have needed the starters to do everything.
Vogel’s bench guys scored nine points combined on Tuesday and only 13 in the series opener (11 of which came courtesy of C.J. Watson).
The Pacers never had productive bench scoring throughout the regular season, as Hoops Stats indicates they finished 28th in that category. Still, an average of 11 points per game off the pine is truly concerning.
If their starting five continue to log 40 minutes or more apiece, fatigue could limit them in the long run.
Vogel has to find someone off his bench that can get into a rhythm and allow other guys to take a breather.
Key Matchup: Chris Bosh vs. Roy Hibbert
After the Atlanta Hawks invented a blueprint to beat the Pacers, it was logical to believe Miami would use its own personnel to emulate Atlanta’s success.
The Hawks used a spread-five lineup to take Hibbert out of his comfort zone. They clearly didn’t cash enough open treys to close out Indy, but did take a 3-2 series lead.
Bosh has the skill set needed to spread the floor with outside shooting, thus forcing Hibbert out of the paint. Unfortunately, his three-point shooting has deserted him.
After sinking an absurd 69.2 percent of his threes in Round 1 against the Charlotte Bobcats and 36.4 percent of them versus the Brooklyn Nets, the veteran is down to 11.1 percent from distance against Indiana (1-of-9).
Bosh has essentially been a non-factor in the Eastern Conference Finals. He hasn’t yet reached double-digit points in a game, finishing with nine in each of Games 1 and 2.
Hibbert hasn’t had to concern himself with Bosh’s outside looks because he’s simply not making them count. Expect that to change at some point in this series. Perhaps Saturday will lead to Bosh’s revival.
If George isn't able to look like a star as a result of the concussion he suffered, Miami will win this game. It probably won’t be close either.
Which team will win?
He’s been working all season long to reach this rematch with Miami, so we'll assume he’ll be doing everything possible to get back to full strength now that he's officially on pace to be in the lineup.
A final press on the gas pedal from Wade and James was the difference in Game 2. Will they ride that wave into Miami or will the Heat suffer a letdown as a result of the uncertainty revolving around George?
Ultimately, it's time for Bosh to go out and put his imprint on the third game of the series. He’s an All-Star talent who can easily score more than 20 points. He’s due for a big performance, especially if Spoelstra makes an effort to get him involved early and often.
If the lanky big man gets his act together, Miami will reap the benefits.
Prediction: Heat beat Pacers 95-90