Remember when the Indiana Pacers were in the process of dismantling the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals and it looked as if the NBA Finals were going to take place in the heartland?
So much for that.
LeBron James, Chris Bosh and the rest of the Heat put on a basketball clinic in Game 4 Monday in their 102-90 victory and now hold a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. It’s do-or-die time for the Pacers, and it really doesn’t look as if they have much of a chance. There are some things, though, that could improve Indiana’s outlook as the series progresses.
For one, the Pacers should stop poking and prodding the bear that is James. Lance Stephenson uttered the following gem before Game 4, according to the Associated Press, via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:
To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness. He never used to say anything to me. I always used to be the one who said, `I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now he’s trying to do it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right because I’m getting under his skin, but I’ve definitely got to keep stepping up to the plate and be more aggressive when he does that.
All James did was go off for 32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals behind an incredible 13-of-21 shooting in Game 4, while Stephenson laid an egg with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.
The crowd was energized from the start after Stephenson’s comments, which cannot always be said about games in Miami, and the Heat led wire-to-wire. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman summed up the situation appropriately:
I'd like to say that I believe Lance Stephenson learned a lesson today. But I am not sure he did -- or will.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) May 27, 2014
Talent-wise, the Pacers simply cannot match up with Miami on paper, and they have to hope the Heat are not fully engaged, which seemed to be the case in Game 1. Talking too much is not the way to sneak up on the champs.
On the court, Indiana has to stop turning the ball over and generating poor offensive possessions.
Miami is nearly impossible to beat when it gets out in transition, and Indiana’s stifling half-court defense is hard to implement when James and Dwyane Wade are streaking up the court after steals. Far too often Indiana threw cross-court passes to James’ man, which may be the surest way to guarantee an interception in the entire NBA.
All together, Indiana had 14 turnovers in Game 4, including five from George. Miami as a team had five.
Indiana can also improve its chances offensively if it spices up the rotation a bit down low. Roy Hibbert has been incredibly inconsistent all postseason, so Frank Vogel should gauge whether his center is going to be productive or not early in the game. If he struggles, dip into some of that depth.
Luis Scola, in particular, went 6-of-8 from the field in Game 4, while David West scored 20 points. ESPN’s Jason Whitlock was not pleased that the two big men with the hot hands didn’t see more time together:
Chance to play Scola and West vs Bosh and Lewis and Vogel passes again. Vogel is blind. Watching different game than you and me. #imdone— Jason Whitlock (@WhitlockJason) May 27, 2014
Throw in Ian Mahinmi, and Vogel should be able to find at least two big men who are playing well down low on any given night. The key then would be for Indiana’s guards to actually get the post players involved.
How many more games will the Pacers win in this series?
At the end of the day, even if Indiana receives strong interior play, manages to limit its turnovers and stops giving the Heat extra motivation than is already there at this stage of the season, overcoming a 3-1 deficit is simply too much against nearly any team, let alone the back-to-back champs.
James and company see the light at the end of the Eastern Conference tunnel, and now that Serge Ibaka is back for the Thunder, the Western Conference Finals could extend the full seven games.
The quicker Miami dispatches with the Pacers, the more rest it will get before what promises to be a grueling NBA finals.
Even though the game is in Indiana, look for the Heat to win Game 5 and end the Pacers’ suffering.
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