Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel may not have said that the Miami Heat are “just another team” as one reporter told LeBron, but the message was clear as to the mindset that he will employ with his players. Personally, I don’t buy it as the most effective method, and I don’t think other playoff legends do either (see Gregg Popovich resting his stars throughout the regular season for the playoffs among others) but it’s one way that some coaches decide to go about the NBA's biggest stage.
As an added bonus for Miami, the media fueled the fire of an already brightly burning superstar in the reigning regular season MVP and defending NBA champion, LeBron James. Those misrepresented comments may have sealed the deal with Miami's third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals but as the great Kevin Garnett said, "anything is possibleeee!"
Well, maybe not anything but one thing is certain: the Pacers were the only Eastern conference team with any legitimate shot to beat the Miami Heat. They have the best combination of player personnel and the playoff experience in the East. Yes, I may be banging my head against the wall for predicting the Knicks to beat the Pacers but I should have expected J.R. Smith to shut down the Knicks offense…sub-30 percent shooting in the playoffs while still jacking up 15 shots a game? Disgraceful.
A stingy defense and a solid offensive post game has led Indiana this far in the playoffs and beat Miami in their regular season series. Not only that, but LeBron James averaged only 21 points per game in those three meetings, including his lowest scoring regular season game (13 points on March 10).
The Pacers have earned a fighting chance against LeBron James & Co. They gave the eventual champions a run for their money last year in the Conference semifinals and are a stronger, more experienced unit this year—especially with the emergence of Paul George as an All-Star. Here are some keys that Indiana needs to nail if they hope to pull off the miraculous upset:
Four guys in double figures
The Pacers have weapons all over the floor. True, their 30 percent three-point shooting in the playoffs is far from impressive but Paul George, George Hill, David West, and Roy Hibbert all averaged at least 14 points per game thus far in the 2013 playoffs. Lance Stephenson’s outpouring of offense in Game 6 puts him at almost 10 points per game (9.8).
Indiana’s offense often struggles to scrape 90 on the board by the final buzzer but they have the pieces that you want in an offense, particularly the ability to score from all five positions. The same cannot be said for Miami.
Hibbert and West bullying LeBron in the post serves even more value for what it does to LeBron offensively.best player.
Force Miami to respect the inside game and then you can take advantage of mismatches on the perimeter with Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers, and Norris Cole. As impressive as Cole has become, he and this trio should not be able to stop George, Hill, and Stephenson.
Protect the paint against LeBron
If there's one thing you can take to the bank it's that the Pacers success depends on shutting down LeBron. James' ability to drive and score is paralleled by an incredible ability to drop dimes, but would you rather have Norris Cole shooting a 15-footer or LeBron finishing at the rim? Force Miami’s role players to step up. Even put the pressure on Dwyane Wade to dial the clock back to 2006.
Then again, if LeBron pulls off anything like what he did in last year’s ECF vs. the Celtics, well…good luck.
Miami has been a much more efficient team in the playoffs, with 1.6 AST/TO and over 49 percent shooting from the field. Indiana is practically the polar opposite—1.1 AST/TO and 42 percent from the field. The best way to mitigate this difference is to get Paul George and George Hill to stop averaging a combined six turnovers per game. Great defense can only go so far against a great offense, and each opportunity that Indiana has the basketball absolutely must be valued. Just because Paul George is coming into his own doesn’t give him free reigns to hand the ball over to the other team.
These are not outrageous goals for Indiana to accomplish. This team-oriented style of basketball parallels nicely with a more-veteran team in the Western conference finals that has championship titles to back it up. Paul George (or any other Pacer) cannot claim the status of future Hall of Famer unlike Popovich’s crew but maybe blissful oblivion is the way to go. Frank Vogel certainly thinks so.
Do you give the Pacers a shot against Miami?