By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
VIDEO: Mini-Movie: East Conference Finals Week 5
MIAMI — The Indiana Pacers were a bottom-10 offensive team in the regular season and downright awful after the All-Star break. The only team that scored fewer points per 100 possessions after the break was the one that lost 26 straight games. And through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Indiana had been held under a point per possession, worse offensively than 10 teams that were eliminated.
Then came Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, when the Pacers’ offense broke out with 107 points in a pretty slow-paced game. They scored just 83 in Game 2, but that was an even slower game, which included a 26-point third quarter.
Things could change as the series comes to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) and Game 4 on Monday, but this has been Indiana’s best offensive series thus far. And maybe that says more about the Miami Heat than the Pacers.
In the first round, the Heat held the Charlotte Bobcats to under their regular season mark of 101.2 points per 100 possessions. But Charlotte was playing with a hobbled Al Jefferson.
In the conference semifinals, the Brooklyn Nets scored 108.2 points per 100 possessions, 3.8 more than their regular season mark. And now the Pacers’ offense has gotten off to a strong start in the conference finals, almost 10 points per 100 possessions better than it was in the regular season.
Both the Nets and Pacers provide challenging matchups, but these were not great offensive teams in the regular season. And the Heat have helped them look pretty good in the playoffs.
The Miami defense just isn’t what it used to be. Shane Battier doesn’t play as much, LeBron James had his worst defensive season since he arrived in Miami, and they all may just be worn down from playing through June each of the last three years.
They can turn it on in a quarter when they absolutely need it, but we’ve yet to really see 48 minutes of great defense from the champs. Things were obviously better in Game 2 than they were in Game 1, but there were still some issues.
The numbers spell out just how much the Miami defense has fallen off.
Heat DefRtg, last four seasons
|Season||Reg. sea.||Rank||1st rd.||Rank||Conf. semis||Rank||Conf. finals||Rank||Finals|
vs. opponent regular season OffRtg for playoffs.
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
In each of the last three postseasons, the Heat held their opponent under its regular season efficiency mark in at least three of their four series (all four in 2011). And they never allowed their opponent more than 1.5 points per 100 possessions more than it did in the regular season.
This year, things are different. Though the Heat knocked off the Nets in five games, Brooklyn’s offense scored about 114 points per 100 possessions over the last three games. It was Miami’s worst defensive series of the last four years and the poor D carried over into the conference finals.
It’s still early in this series and the Heat did get the win they needed in Indiana to steal home-court advantage. Throughout the playoffs, they’ve won games with terrific fourth-quarter execution. But there will come a time when a great fourth quarter isn’t enough. And if they don’t win their third straight championship, their defensive regression will likely be the reason why.