HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The most amazing thing about the Eastern Conference finals thus far is how efficient the two offenses have been.
Based on *an estimate of possessions, the league’s No. 1 defense (Indiana) has allowed 110.9 points per 100 possessions and the league’s No. 19 offense (Indiana again) has scored 111.3. It’s a small sample size, but both of those numbers would have led the league in the regular season.
*Possessions = FGA + (0.44*FTA) + TO – OREB
And my own (unofficial) possession counts have both teams scoring a little bit more efficiently than the estimates.
The Heat shot just 39 percent in Game 4 on Tuesday, including 14-for-48 from outside the paint. But they were 24-for-27 from the line and committed just six turnovers. They scored on just one of their final nine possessions, but had scored seven straight times before that and still scored more than a point per possession (22/21) in the fourth quarter.
Although the Pacers showed LeBron James more bodies on his post touches and the MVP seemed a little more passive (11 of his 18 shots came from outside the paint and he attempted just six free throws) in Game 4, defense was Miami’s bigger problem … and has been throughout the series.
The Pacers aren’t a good shooting team and they’re turnover-prone. But they score with second-chance opportunities and trips to the free throw line, “smash-mouth basketball” as Frank Vogel calls it.
Indiana has smash-mouthed Miami in this series. In fact, the Pacers have more than twice as many offensive rebounds (61) and more than twice as many free throw attempts (141) in four conference finals games than the Spurs did (28, 66).
Game 4 was a little unique in that the Pacers outscored the Heat, 50-32, in the paint. Roy Hibbert scored 20 of those 50 points, as much a force on offense as he has been on defense throughout the season.
The Heat have been doing a good job of fronting the post, making it difficult for the Pacers to throw direct entry passes to Hibbert or David West. But Indiana has been able to get them the ball using other action to set up entry passes.
Here, in the first quarter of Game 4, George Hill runs a pick-and-roll with Hibbert. This allows Hibbert to establish deep post position against Chris Andersen, who had jumped out to help on the screen. Two passes later, Hibbert scores on a short jump hook …
On this play, Hibbert is stationed on the weak side as Hill and West run a pick-and-roll. This draws just enough of Chris Bosh‘s attention to allow Hibbert to seal his man as the ball is swung. Hibbert misses the jump hook, but Bosh fails to box out, and Hibbert gets one of the biggest baskets of the game …
The Pacers have, at times, been able to get Hibbert the ball on a direct entry pass. And here, it’s clear that this is a bad matchup for Andersen …
In addition to denying the post, the Heat’s aggressive defense has kept the Pacers’ pick-and-roll ball handlers contained when they try to use a high screen (not that the Pacers’ ball handlers were particularly adept at attacking on pick-and-rolls in the first place). But Indiana’s guards and wings have been able to get to the rim in isolation situations (see Paul George’s Game 2 throwdown) and by going away from the screen.
Hill got to the line for 10 of Indiana’s 33 free throw attempts in Game 4. Here goes away from the screen, gets past Ray Allen, and draws a foul on Joel Anthony …
Those kinds of attacks have allowed the Pacers to salvage some otherwise brutal offensive possessions. Thanks in part to the Heat’s pressure, there have often been 10 seconds or less on the shot clock when the Pacers run their first meaningful action. But as long as they get the ball on the rim, they give themselves a chance to grab an offensive board.
Here, Lance Stephenson makes something out of nothing by attacking Allen off the dribble, drawing a block attempt from Andersen, thus freeing Hibbert for a tip-in. (Really, Hill, Stephenson and George should attack Allen’s one-on-one defense at every opportunity.)
Hibbert is averaging 6.5 offensive boards in the series. And only one Heat player (James) is averaging as many total rebounds over the four games.
This is who the Pacers are. They’re bigger than the Heat, they’ve stayed true to their smash-mouth identity and they’ve been able to open things up inside by keeping Miami’s defense on the move.