- Heat vs. Pacers: Series Hub
Learn from the past or risk repeating it.
That’s sound advice always — the sort of wisdom that saves people from going on second blind dates and reveals how an NBA playoff contender can fix what ailed it in a previous series.
That’s the hope, anyway, of the Indiana Pacers, facing the Miami Heat in the East bracket for the second time in as many postseasons. They’ve been hard at work since eliminating the Knicks Saturday night, breaking down video and plumbing the results of their loss in six games in the conference semifinals last May.
The teams met three times in the 2012-13 regular season and those games are relevant too, pitting the Heat’s and the Pacers’ current versions against each other (Indiana won the first two meetings, Miami the last). But the style of playoff ball is different and so is the schedule, facing the same foe over and over. By the end of Miami’s Game 6 victory on May 24, a genuine dislike and legit rivalry had been cemented.
It was the starting point for the three meetings this season, and it will serve as backdrop for the four-to-seven the teams play over the next two weeks.
“It’s going to be beast,” Miami forward Chris Bosh said the other night.
Here are some takeaways from the 2012 showdown:
No Bosh: The Heat’s talented, occasionally maligned power forward suffered a strained abdominal muscle in the first half of Game 1 and was done for the series. Miami actually trailed when Bosh exited, then won that game, but it did seem to help a Pacers squad that already was seen as having an advantage up front.
Sure enough, in Games 2 and 3, the Pacers’ two victories, they outrebounded Miami by 26. In the four they lost, they were beaten on the boards by a combined 19. Indiana forward David West didn’t have to contend with Bosh’s extended shooting range, and scored more points and shot more free throws than anyone in the series not named LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. Center Roy Hibbert averaged 12.3 points and 11.5 rebounds, personal playoff bests.
The Heat’s most effective lineup a year ago included Joel Anthony out of necessity. Now he hardly plays because Chris (Birdman) Anderson gives Miami energy, toughness and solid passing (and OK finishing) skills. And because Bosh is healthy and helping. Oh, he’s averaging a career playoff low 13.2 ppg, but that means nothing to him within the context of his and his team’s greater ambition.
“I’m here to play a specific role and be what this team needs me to be,” Bosh said after the semifinals ouster of Chicago. “I’m not trying to have a big head, get to an ego problem, then think I’m too big for my britches and not want to change my role.”
Just playing, period, is important. He wasn’t too comfortable, sidelined with an injury no one could see, watching Miami slip behind 2-1 in games and 54-46 halfway through Game 4.
This time will be different, Bosh said. “I was really looking forward to that series and I didn’t get a chance to play. Hopefully this time around I can stay healthy, first of all, and put my imprint on the series like I wanted to last year. That’s why you stay patient and wait. I’ll get my chance, they’ll get their chance and everybody will be happy.”
Well, not everybody.
–Road woes: The Pacers had battled Chicago before losing in the first round in 2011, then they thumped Orlando to earn the series with Miami last spring. But they hardly were a crew of crusty playoff veterans and it showed in some of their numbers.
Indiana shot 37.1 percent in the series’ three road games compared to 44.4 percent at home. The Pacers went 24.5 percent from 3-point range vs. 39.6 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The pattern held at the foul line as well: 71.8 percent away, 83.1 at home. The Pacers shot more free throws in the road games (26.0 to 23.7) but apparently were bothered by the thundersticks and jeering.
Their stats in those categories this season didn’t show nearly the same spread, but Indiana still is a better team at home (30-11 and 6-0 in the playoffs) than away (19-21 and 2-4). The Pacers won Game 2 last year by limiting the Heat to 1-for-16 from the arc and holding anyone besides James and Wade to a max of five points.
Miami, as you might expect of a battle-tested team heading to its second straight Finals a year ago, was more consistent across the board. The Heat shot 46.2/30.8/74.2 on the road to 45.0/26.3/71.9 at home.
–Lance Stephenson vs. Danny Granger: Actually, to gauge Stephenson’s growing impact, one has to look at Stephenson plus Paul George‘s development and compare it to George last year with Granger available. Last spring, Granger and George felt the wrath of Miami’s defense and averaged a combined 23.3 points, a drop of 7.4 ppg from their regular season work. Granger was gimpy and shot 37.6 percent while George looked overwhelmed and was at 36.5.
Through two rounds this spring, George – the NBA’s Most Improved Player – and Stephenson have boosted their combined output to 28.9 ppg, up from 26.2 in the regular season. Of course, Atlanta and New York, Indiana’s two opponents so far, aren’t Miami, defensively.
–Third quarters matter: In its two victories last time, Indiana outscored Miami in the third quarters, 54-26. In Game 4, they were up 61-51 early in the third until the Heat snatched the quarter, the game and the series away. The Pacers got outscored 30-16, shot 6-for-18 and had no answers for James and Wade, who romped to 14 points each in the period.
So, for nearly 72 hours from the end of Game 3 to the middle of Game 4, the series looked to be Indiana’s to win. The Pacers had outscored the Heat to that point 312-291 overall. The rest of the way? Over the final 120 minutes, Miami outscored Indiana 275-215.
–Watch Wade: Wade is the ailing Miami star of the moment, the pain and limitations of his right knee coming and going as if on a whim. His miserable Game 2 last spring – 2-for-13 shooting, just five points, five turnovers and one assist – was due in part to troubles with his other knee. But he also sought out guidance from Indiana coach Tom Crean, who had coached him at Marquette. He came alive in the middle of Game 4, combining with James for 38 consecutive Miami points and straightening out a 1-for-8 start by going 12-for-15 the rest of the way. He scored 28 points in Game 5 and was the best player on the floor in the finale with 41 points and 10 rebounds.
Wade has adapted to his various ailments, including his balky knee this season. He had a consultation with Crean again in the Chicago round. Now he is more apt to seize a game in spurts as he is to control it tip to horn. Some of that went on last spring: Wade averaged 15.0 points while shooting 53.1 percent in the second halves of the six games, compared to 11.2 ppg on 40.7 percent shooting in first halves.