When the Miami Heat took a 2-1 lead in this best of seven series, many thought they would handily sink the Indiana Pacers in games four and five to meet the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals. There was little belief that the Pacers tough and encouraging play in the first two games, even though they lost game one, had anything to do with how they might play in game four. But no one in the Pacers locker room were ready to pack their bags, they’re a great basketball team playing great basketball.
With the series now knotted at two games a piece with game five looming in Miami Thursday, there is somewhat of a do-or-die mentality. It isn’t a must win for either team, technically speaking, but that is the approach both teams will take into the game. In game four, knowing that if they dropped three games to one heading back to Miami, the Pacers came out eager to impose their physical play on the Heat. That is precisely how they must play in game five as well.
This series has basically come down to a three game series, and Miami has the home-court advantage. The Pacers will need one win in Miami if they’re to upset the defending champs. A game five road win is much more likely than a game seven clincher, if the series goes that far. Adding to that is the chance to end the series in Indiana in front of the home crowd and where the Pacers are 7-1 this postseason.
Game four was an encouraging game for the Pacers. Roy Hibbert and David West did precisely what head coach Frank Vogel had imagined they could do before the series started. They controlled the offensive glass and overall rebounding in general. The Pacers had a whopping 49 rebounds over the Heat’s 30. Hibbert posted a strong double-double with 23 points and 12 rebounds and played stellar defense on Chris Bosh, who had seven points and three rebounds on 1-6 shooting. West added 14 points and 12 rebounds and played a large role in fouling out Lebron James. The Heat were able to stick around due to standout performances from point guard Mario Chalmers and a couple big baskets from veteran Ray Allen. But Chalmers can’t be relied upon in game five, that’d likely entail bad things for the Heat.
The Pacers need to be cautious of their bench production. The starting lineup contributed 88 of the teams 99 points in game five, backup point guard D.J. Augustin scored zero points in 18 minutes and produced the only negative plus/minus rating for the Pacers. He will need to provide an aspect to the Pacers game that was severely lacking in game five: perimeter shooting. The Pacers were 3-14 from downtown on Tuesday, versus the Heat who were 8-23. If Augustin can sink a few, the Heat will have to keep their defense even more true against an impressive playoff Pacer offense: their offensive efficiency in this series is 111.0–a number that would’ve led all teams in the regular season. Another bit of optimism for the Pacers can derive from the play of All-Star Paul George who has been playing woeful on offense this series. His 4-10 shooting for 12 points to go with five turnovers is a far-cry from his usual output, he is due to break out from this slump and if he does, the Heat have a serious problem.
The Heat are in a bad position. They’ve given the Pacers the opportunity to figure out how to succeed against them. The Heat have no match for Hibbert and West and Dwyane Wade is noticeably not healthy. Lebron James seems to be back where he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading the team on his own. But the Heat are known for looking bad one game (game two) and then coming back the next and reminding everyone why they are the champs (game three). So, it really wouldn’t be surprising if the Heat come out tonight in Miami and trounce the young Pacers. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade will need to step up in a big way. Bosh has somewhat distanced himself from the low-post 20-10 guy he was when he was with the Toronto Raptors, he now seems to be more interested in playing like a shooting stretch-four. He is capable of knocking down outside shots, but unfortunately for him, he is the biggest player on the Heat roster and he is going to need to sacrifice some fouls and try to put a body on Hibbert at all times.
Lance Stephenson of the Pacers has been playing out of his mind this postseason, a complete turnaround from last year when his only role was mocking Lebron James with a choking gesture from the sidelines– a series that the Heat eventually won. Stephenson is a feast or famine type player; when he is hot, he is impossible to corral, when he is cold, he can lose the game for you. He seems to have it out for Lebron, so look for that matchup tonight to produce some excitement and most definitely some extracurricular activity.
The Pacers know that they must win tonight. And the Heat need to win to silence the skepticism they’re currently dealing with. The referees may or may not have had an impact in game four, but the Pacers dominated that game. In Miami for game five, there hopefully won’t be make-up calls for the public outcry of fouling out Lebron James in game four–let the teams play.