MIAMI — There was some talk after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals about the Indiana Pacers being more of a team than the Miami Heat, because they have five guys who contribute and can come up with a big game on any given night, while the champs have three stars who carry the bulk of the load.
Now, that’s mostly a bunch of nonsense. All five Indiana starters have scored at least 25 points in a game in this postseason, but Miami didn’t win a title last year without significant contributions from multiple players beyond LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The problem is that the Heat aren’t getting those contributions right now, and they aren’t getting back to The Finals if they don’t get production out of their role players against the Pacers.
We’ve seen this before, and it wasn’t that long ago. The New York Knicks’ role players all seemed to disappear in the conference semifinals. Carmelo Anthony got his 28.5 points per game, but nobody else could really get open and the league’s third-best offense was held to barely a point per possession over six games.
The Miami offense, which ranked No. 1 in the regular season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs, hasn’t been nearly that bad, but the Pacers are basically doing the same thing. James is getting his, but the offense isn’t running at full capacity, because other guys aren’t getting open.
This is what the Pacers do. They let Paul George guard the opponent’s best player by himself, they defend pick-and-rolls with just the two guys involved, they don’t over-help, and they stay at home on shooters. They had quite a few pick-and-roll breakdowns in Game 1, but didn’t make any real adjustments in Game 2. They stayed true to their defensive system, did what they do better, and continued to keep Miami’s 3-point shooting in check.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants his shooters hunting down shots, and James said after Game 2 that it’s on him, Wade and Bosh to get the shooters involved.
“We have to figure out how to get them some shots early in the game,” James said, “where they feel like they’re part of the offense. That has to come from me, come from D-Wade, come from CB. We’re the three guys that have the ball in our hands a lot.”
But that’s a lot easier said than done against this opponent. Indiana ranked No. 1 in 3-point defense in the regular season and they’ve held the Heat to 12-for-40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc through the first two games of this series.
Seven of those 12 threes have come from James (five) and Bosh (two). The Heat’s role players are a combined 5-for-21 (24 percent) from 3-point range. With Wade far from 100 percent, the shooting problems are all the more painful.
Spoelstra also said that he cares more about how many threes Shane Battier and Ray Allen take than how many they make. But with both shooting poorly, he called on Mike Miller in the second quarter of Game 2. Miller drained a three at the halftime buzzer, but didn’t see the floor after that.
Maybe we’ll see more of Miller as the series moves to Indiana. Battier’s and Allen’s struggles go beyond this series. Battier has shot 12-for-52 (23 percent) from 3-point range in the playoffs, while Allen is 5-for-23 (22 percent) since the start of the conference semifinals.
Rewind to last year though. Through the first three games of the conference semifinals against the Pacers, Miami was shooting a brutal 5-for-42 (12 percent) from 3-point range. They recovered, shot 21-for-48 (44 percent) the rest of the series, and then Battier went off (15-for-26) in The Finals.
A similar turnaround in this series would give the Heat a chance to play for their second straight championship. But this Indiana defense is much better than last year’s. George is improved, Roy Hibbert is more of a presence inside, and their pick-and-roll defense is different. They ranked just 16th in 3-point defense last season.
While this series has been physical and points in the paint are always critical, it may be the points from outside that determine the winner.