- Heat vs. Pacers: Series Hub
MIAMI — This is where the Indiana Pacers really miss Danny Granger.
Despite the absence of one of their best players for all but five games this season, the Pacers took a step forward. They became the No. 1 defensive team in the league, have advanced a round further than they did a year ago, and just might have what it takes to knock off the defending champs.
Paul George has stepped into Granger’s go-to-guy shoes and Lance Stephenson has stepped into a starter’s role, enough that we sometimes forget that this team is missing a former All-Star who averaged 21.6 points over the previous five seasons.
But the Pacers did regress offensively without Granger, falling from ninth in offensive efficiency last season to 19th this year. They’ve overcome his absence thus far, but this may be the time when his knee injury hurts the most.
The Miami Heat are an aggressive defensive team on the strong side of the floor, looking to deny the post, trap pick-and-rolls and force turnovers. That in itself is an issue for the turnover-prone Pacers, but if they can move the ball successfully to the weak side, they can get open shots.
The problem is that the Pacers don’t have anybody on the weak side to really take advantage of the Heat’s aggressiveness. Their best 3-point shooters are George and George Hill, who are the guys handling the ball on the strong side.
Stephenson is most often the guy left open from beyond the arc, but he’s a career 30-percent shooter from 3-point range. He missed all five of his 3-point attempts in Game 1 on Wednesday (including one that could have given the Pacers a six-point lead with 1:21 left in overtime) and has missed his last 10 threes, going back to Game 4 of the conference semifinals.
The Pacers could ask Stephenson to run more pick-and-rolls so that George or Hill is on the weak side, but Stephenson is often very passive on high pick-and-rolls, rarely forcing the defense to rotate with penetration.
Granger has shot 38 percent from 3-point range over his career. Though he shot 1-for-10 from beyond the arc in Games 1 and 2 against the Heat last year, he made 11 of his next 23 treys and would obviously be a bigger weak-side threat than Stephenson. Not only that, he’d be another ball handler who could free George or Hill on the weak side.
“It’s a factor,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said of Granger’s absence on Thursday. “You got to be able to shoot the ball from the weak side against this team that loads to the strong side. So I think Danny Granger would have a profound impact on a series like this. But we got guys who have gotten the job done all year.”