The Indiana Pacers may have awoken the proverbial sleeping giant on Saturday night after a 99-87 Game 3 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
While the Heat haven't sleepwalked through the postseason so far, they have clearly been laboring. Whether it's been a concerted effort to conserve energy, or Miami is becoming weighed down by both fatigue and expectations is anybody's guess.
But Saturday was a return to form. The Pacers were held to 6-of-21 shooting from behind the arc, while Dwyane Wade and LeBron James dropped 23 and 26 points, respectively. Along with Ray Allen, they outscored the Pacers by themselves in the second half, per ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh.
Allen scored 16 points off the bench, hitting all four of his three-pointers.
In the second quarter, the Heat found themselves down 15 points.
They slowly wiped out that large deficit, mostly because of how well the aforementioned Miami stars shot, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Check out how hot LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Ray Allen were in the 2nd half tonight: pic.twitter.com/1ixOrCxAsU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 25, 2014
By virtue of their win, the Heat tied their franchise record for biggest postseason comeback, per Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick:
This will tie the Heat's second largest postseason comeback in franchise history.— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) May 25, 2014
So, what does this mean for the rest of the series?
|4||May 26||8:30 p.m.||Pacers||Heat||ESPN|
|5||May 28||8:30 p.m.||Heat||Pacers||ESPN|
|6*||May 30||8:30 p.m.||Pacers||Heat||ESPN|
|7*||June 1||8:30 p.m.||Heat||Pacers||ESPN|
Note: You can live stream every game of the Eastern Conference Finals on Watch ESPN.
If you're Pacers head coach Frank Vogel, there's no reason to panic too much by Game 3 alone. After all, you built a healthy first-half lead on Miami on the road, and Paul George was probably still dealing with some of the lingering effects of the concussion he suffered in Game 2.
After the game, Vogel appeared composed rather than frantic and exasperated.
"Tough loss for our guys," he said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Thought we competed pretty well, came out of the gates really strong, got off to a good start and then didn't manage our foul trouble well and didn't manage picking up their defensive intensity well."
Vogel added, "It's very early in the series."
George struggled with foul trouble throughout Game 3, and it limited him to 32 minutes. Despite picking up four fouls, he seemed a bit agitated with Vogel's decision to keep him off the court, per Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star:
Paul George was not at all happy about playing just 32 minutes, even though he picked up his fourth foul. "I don't want to get into it.''— Bob Kravitz (@bkravitz) May 25, 2014
The two-time All-Star scored 17 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but he did miss five of his six three-point attempts.
If George keeps playing like this into Game 4, then it will be a major problem for the Pacers. For now, there's no reason to hit "threat level midnight."
As for Roy Hibbert, I'll let this brief collection of tweets do the talking:
Hibbert has let the frustration of second quarter carry over to the third. He's mentally off his game. Lost his focus.— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) May 25, 2014
Roy Hibbert goes up with the strength of a thousand mannequins— Reese Waters (@reesewaters) May 25, 2014
Hibbert has been awful— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) May 25, 2014
In that third quarter, Roy Hibbert played like he was 5 feet tall.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) May 25, 2014
So, yeah, there's that.
At this point, we shouldn't be expecting any less of Hibbert. He's been terrible for most of the postseason and hasn't shown much sign of change. Indiana has to work around that.
As long as the Pacers can get consistent production out of David West and Lance Stephenson, they're still in the thick of the series.
The more worrying problem is whether or not the Heat are beginning to play like two-time reigning NBA champions again.
Of course, having Wade and James drop 20-plus apiece is great, but Miami has to be encouraged by how much it's getting from other sources, particularly Norris Cole. The 25-year-old scored nine points and recorded two assists, but his presence was truly felt on the defensive end.
Grantland's Zach Lowe was impressed with how Cole defended Stephenson:
Another really nice game for Norris Cole. His ability to guard Lance, or Indy's refusal/inability to post Lance, has changed series.— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) May 25, 2014
The Big Three can't carry the Heat the whole way. James, Wade and Chris Bosh need Cole, Allen, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis to contribute meaningful minutes in order to accomplish this three-peat.
The Miami Heat are the best team in the Eastern Conference when they're playing at their peak, and that's the scariest prospect for the Pacers.
As ESPN.com's Michael Wallace pondered, Indiana might start running out of ideas soon if Miami keeps on this trajectory:
Pacers have that look like they just can't figure out this Heat team. Plenty can still happen, but this goes back to Game 2 finish.— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) May 25, 2014
Game 4 isn't a must-win for the Pacers, but it will serve as a major barometer for this series. If George, Hibbert and Stephenson struggle once again, while James and Wade flourish, the Eastern Conference Finals might not run much longer.