By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
MIAMI – Ray Allen is the all-time leader in both regular season and postseason 3-pointers, a fact that the Indiana Pacers might want to remember when Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals tips off on Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Allen’s four fourth-quarter threes helped turn a two-point game into a comfortable Miami Heat win and a 2-1 series lead. The Heat’s comeback from an early 15-point deficit was keyed by defense, but they put the game away with another big fourth quarter. Miami has scored a ridiculous 132 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter over the last two rounds.
It’s not a coincidence that that’s the quarter when Allen has played his most minutes. Against Brooklyn and Indiana, Allen has played 32 minutes in the first quarter, 65 in the second, 32 in the third, and 85 in the fourth.
When you have the league’s best attacker and you complement him with the best shooter of all-time, you’re going to score some points. As such, LeBron James creates open shots for Allen … and Allen creates space for James.
And sometimes, the defense makes it easy for them. According to SportVU, all four of Allen’s threes in Game 3 were uncontested. According to the video evidence, they were mostly a result of Pacer mistakes.
Three No. 1 – Cross-match nightmare
- NBA.com/stats video: Allen’s first three puts the Heat up five
With the Heat up two, the champs were playing their standard, fourth-quarter, small/floor-spacing lineup: Norris Cole, Allen, Dwyane Wade, James and Chris Bosh. And the Pacers were playing their starters, with C.J. Watson replacing George Hill, who had picked up his fifth foul early in the period.
That meant that David West was defending Allen, because the alternatives are him defending James or Wade or the Pacers not putting their best players on the floor.
Allen’s strategy when he’s got a big guy defending him? “Run him.”
Allen starts the possession at the top of the key and cuts toward the left block, taking West through a screen from James …
To let the play (a Cole/James side pick-and-roll) develop on the left side of the floor, Allen crosses the lane slowly, but he still has more than 10 feet of separation between himself and West…
And when he sprints back out to the perimeter, he gets another screen from Bosh. West plays the screen high (as if Allen is going to curl out to the right wing) and Allen adjusts by flaring to the corner. Wide open…
Three No. 2 – You were right there, Lance
- NBA.com/stats video: Allen’s second three puts the Heat up eight
After Wade’s weak-side rotation causes a Indiana turnover, the Heat are in transition with the ball in James’ hands. That’s a dangerous spot, but Paul George catches up with James and Lance Stephenson is in front of Allen, above the 3-point line.
But Cole is also running the floor and might have a layup if Stephenson doesn’t retreat. The problem is that, when Stephenson does retreat, he leaves Allen wide open …
Three No. 3 – See both, Lance
- NBA.com/stats video: Allen’s third three puts the Heat up 11
Allen’s third three is a simple case of Stephenson getting caught ball-watching (not a first for him) as Cole penetrates. He’s not helping on the drive, he’s not sticking to the guy who has already drained two threes in the last 3 1/2 minutes. He’s just watching the play like you or me …
Basketball 101. See the ball and your man. Cole does make a pretty nice, left-handed feed out to Allen on that play, though.
Three No. 4 – Lost in transition
- NBA.com/stats video: Allen’s fourth three puts the Heat up 15
To be fair to Stephenson, he played all but 2 1/2 minutes of Game 3. And fatigue looked apparent as he got up off the floor slowly after committing a turnover two minutes later, giving the Heat a 5-on-4 opportunity in transition.
Hill is actually running alongside Allen …
But with George occupied with Wade on the other side, only Roy Hibbert is in front of James. And when Hill steps up, that guy is all alone in the corner again…
The Pacers may have to find another fourth-quarter lineup, one that can better matchup with the Heat’s three-guard combination, both in the half court and in transition. Hill and Watson have played just 11 minutes together in this series and Hill’s foul trouble obviously prevented Frank Vogel from using the two together much on Saturday.
Replacing one of his bigs (likely Hibbert) with another guard in crunch time would also be a case of Vogel compromising his team’s identity, something he’s loathe to do. When asked about the Allen-West matchup after Game 1, Vogel said he likes it, because “we kept our rotation intact and we stayed who we are, which, I think, strengthens us.”
If he sticks with it, the Pacers will need more energy and more awareness on the defensive end, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Heat are at their best.