Indiana Pacers Have Only Themselves to Blame for Series Deficit vs. Miami Heat

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Indiana Pacers Have Only Themselves to Blame for Series Deficit vs. Miami Heat
USA Today

The Indiana Pacers were quick to point fingers after their 102-90 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night.

Paul George and David West both questioned the officiating, particularly as it pertained to the free-throw disparity (34-17) in favor of the home team. George fielded a $25,000 fine for his comments about the Heat's "home cooking" from the referees.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel, though, wasn't ready to concede defeat to the zebras on Tuesday. "We can’t control calls," Vogel remarked (via NBA.com's John Schuhmann). "We got to control our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense."

Indy might've had an easier time on those fronts if not for Roy Hibbert, who blamed his scoreless performance on a lack of involvement in the offense from the low post. Once again, Vogel disagreed:

Roy Hibbert’s hurt the Miami Heat more in the pick-and-roll game and on the glass in previous years. That’s where he’s put up his biggest numbers, while mixing in the post game. It’s not like he’s had success getting 20-30 post-ups a game. So that’s how we’re trying to utilize him and they’re doing a great job with their hands and deflecting those passes.

Indeed, Indy's 3-1 deficit in this series isn't the product of playing eight-on-five; the Pacers only drove the ball 11 times in Game 4 and have actually taken more free throws so far (94) than have the Heat (87). Nor is it a matter of Hibbert's recurring disappearing act; he touched the ball 29 times in Game 4, just under his average of 32.7 touches per game in these playoffs, according to NBA.com.

As for Lance Stephenson's comments about LeBron James showing "weakness" and whatever backlash they might've incurred...well, if the Pacers can't handle that distraction, they're already beyond reproach.

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Which seems to be the case anyway. Only eight teams in NBA history have ever battled back from a 3-1 series deficit. Indy would be hard-pressed to be the ninth, given who and what it's up against.

More specifically, the two-time defending champs, a team that's played the Pacers 28 times over the last three years, led by the best basketball player not just in this series, but on planet Earth (i.e. James).

It doesn't help the Pacers, either, that the Heat now seem to be firing on all cylinders at their expense. Chris Bosh finally joined the party that James and Wade have been carrying on since Game 1. Bosh's 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field (8-of-10 from the line) were his most against Indy while in a Heat jersey. 

But Miami's surgical decimation of Indy's vaunted defense began well before Bosh got in on the act. The Heat's team-wide ball movement and perimeter shooting (37.6 percent from three) contributed handsomely to an offensive effort that's seen the Pacers' defense torched for an astounding 111.5 points per 100 possessions—more than the Utah Jazz's league-worst defense surrendered during the regular season.

And more than the 109 points per 100 possessions that Miami's third-best offense averaged therein.

In truth, Indy's attack has been just fine, thanks. The Pacers have thus far put up 106.9 points per 100 possessions against the Heat in this series. That's a significant improvement over their regular-season output (101.5 points per 100 possessions) and just a hair below the output of the Phoenix Suns' eighth-ranked offense (107.1 points per 100 possessions).

To be sure, Indy's offense has been far from perfect. The Pacers have turned the ball over on 16.3 percent of their possessions against Miami, including on 16.8 percent of their possessions in Game 4. Paul George's five turnovers—as many as the entire Heat team had on Monday—contributed heavily to that.

The refs certainly weren't responsible for George's ball-security problems. Nor were they at fault for the 20 points the Heat scored off 14 Indy miscues.

Those issues with turnovers did, and have, put Indy's vaunted defense at a severe disadvantage, though, particularly inside. The Pacers have allowed Miami to score an unsightly 42.7 percent of its points in the paint on 68.3 percent shooting therein.

Hibbert's usually the one charged with protecting the paint, and rightfully so. At 7'2", Hibbert—once the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year honors—limited Indy's opposition to 41.4 percent shooting at the rim during the regular season, per NBA.com, and just 42.7 percent in these playoffs.

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The thing is, Hibbert has faced far fewer shots at the rim per game in the postseason (6.9) than he did during the campaign (9.8). Some of that is likely due to a reduction in minutes on account of Hibbert's numerous no-shows through the first two rounds.

Hibbert had another one of those nights in Game 4. He registered his fourth scoreless performance of the 2014 playoffs, finishing 0-of-4 from the field in just over 22 minutes. Hibbert's first-half foul trouble didn't help in this regard.

The Pacers can blame the officials all they want for that, and Hibbert can blame Vogel all he wants for not calling his number more often, but neither will do anything to stave off elimination for Indiana. Stephenson might not have done his teammates any favors by poking the proverbial bear, but even that does little to explain how he's only managed to score 19 points on 6-of-16 from the field between Games 3 and 4 after piling up 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting in Game 2 alone.

And, frankly, Indy's search for excuses largely ignores Miami's role in all of this. The Heat deserve credit for making plays, hitting shots and keeping their composure under any and all circumstances. They came up aces in the fourth quarter in Game 2, battled back from a 15-point deficit in Game 3 and won the opening quarter for the first time in this series in Game 4.

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James and Wade have been phenomenal throughout. Bosh did well to hold his own up front on defense, even as his shot was failing him on the other end through the first three contests. The Heat's bench has been effective and productive when called upon, and managed to outscore Indy's in Game 4 (26-23) despite Chris Andersen's absence on account of a thigh bruise.

This isn't to suggest that there's no hope for the Pacers. They'll host the Heat at Bankers Life Fieldhouse for Game 5 on Wednesday. According to ESPN's Michael Wallace, Miami may be without Birdman and Ray Allen for that one. Hibbert and Stephenson can't play much worse than they did on Monday. As a unit, Indy can do a better job of keeping Miami out of the paint and off the free-throw line, especially if the Pacers' ball-handlers are more careful in possession. 

But before the Pacers can take care of business on the court, they must find a way to block out the distractions off of it and recapture some semblance of their former chemistry. As Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick noted:

All season, the Pacers tried to emulate the cohesion and camaraderie of their East rivals, shooting group photos and videobombing each other. But their cohesion has shown cracks as the adversity hit, and they have been unable to emulate the one attribute that matters most: professionalism.

True professionals don't find others to take the fall for them; they do it themselves, acknowledge their mistakes and try to learn and grow from them. Unless the Pacers do that—and soon—they'll be doomed to suffer through a summer filled with even more pointless finger-pointing.

 

Can the Pacers climb out of their 3-1 hole? Tweet me your thoughts!

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