HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Part of the Indiana Pacers’ success in the conference semifinals was keeping New York’s shooters in check. They knew that the Knicks were at their best when they were knocking down threes and, except for a flurry in the third quarter of Game 6, really did not allow themselves to get beat from beyond the arc.
With Paul George defending Carmelo Anthony one-on-one and Roy Hibbert protecting the rim, the Pacers’ other defenders were able to stay at home on the shooters.
That strategy is obviously more difficult when you replace Anthony with LeBron James and then throw Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh into the mix, but the Pacers still want to keep their opponent’s role players under wraps.
We remember James and Wade combining for 70 points in Game 5 of last year’s conference semifinals, but other than that 40-point explosion, the four-time MVP hasn’t had a really big scoring game against the Pacers over the last two years. Wade, we know, is banged up and looks only able to score in bursts here or there.
Consider the three games the Heat and Pacers played this season. James, Wade and Bosh had similar production in all three contests: 66 points on Jan. 8, 58 on Feb. 1, and 60 on March 10. And it was when their teammates came through with another 45 points that the Heat got their only win of the season series.
Heat offense vs. Indiana
|Jan. 8 Loss||FGM||FGA||FG%||3PM||3PA||3PT%||FTM||FTA||PTS||eFG%|
|Bosh, James & Wade||24||46||52.2%||5||7||71.4%||13||18||66||57.6%|
|Feb. 1 Loss||FGM||FGA||FG%||3PM||3PA||3PT%||FTM||FTA||PTS||eFG%|
|Bosh, James & Wade||21||44||47.7%||1||3||33.3%||15||21||58||48.9%|
|Mar. 10 Win||FGM||FGA||FG%||3PM||3PA||3PT%||FTM||FTA||PTS||eFG%|
|Bosh, James & Wade||25||41||61.0%||1||3||33.3%||9||13||60||62.2%|
Now, poor defense had a lot to do with the Feb. 1 loss, and Bosh’s nine field goals from outside the paint had a lot to do with the March 10 win. But with the way the Pacers defend and with the way the Heat is set up to succeed, it makes sense that Miami is most dangerous when the “others” are making shots.
Looking beyond the three games against Indiana, the Heat are 43-3 when players other than James, Wade and Bosh scored at least 37 points. Now, there’s a garbage-time factor there, but they’re also 33-2 when Mario Chalmers has scored nine points or more and 29-2 when Shane Battier has scored eight points or more. Neither of those guys plays a lot of garbage-time minutes. Chalmers scored 26 points in the win over the Pacers.
Oh yeah, the Heat are 31-0 when they hit at least 10 threes.
Erik Spoelstra has been saying for a while now that he wants his shooters “hunting down shots.” Not only is three greater than two, but threats from the outside help open things up for James and Wade in the paint.
As was the case against New York, the Pacers don’t want to give shooters much space. They can do that for the most part in the Heat’s half-court offense, and the key might be transition. Three of Chalmers’ five 3-pointers in that March 10 game were generated by secondary breaks, where the Pacers simply didn’t get to him in time.
So the Pacers’ defensive success may come down to their offense. If they can avoid too many live-ball turnovers and maintain floor balance, they can get back in transition, stop Miami’s attackers and get out to the shooters.
And really, the shooters might be more important than the guys with the big names.