Posts Tagged ‘Frank Vogel’

Competing agendas clash in Game 5

VIDEO: The GameTime crew breaks down the problems facing the Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS – Pick your more powerful driving force: Desperation or desire? Pride or pragmatism? Survival or statement?

All will be in play on one side or the other Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals (8:30, ESPN), with the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat toting diametrically opposed agendas into the clash at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

For the Pacers, this is all plight. Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, they need to sweep the remaining three games to advance to The Finals. They have to win two in a row just to get Game 7 back on their court at BLFH, which has been the grail of their entire season. The Pacers went 35-6 there during the regular season but are only 4-5 in the playoffs.

Indiana can’t work in three-game bites, of course, or it will gag on a task too large. The Pacers have to don the blinders and focus on one game. “We are going to be home in front of our fans and I’m sure they’re going to be going crazy,” guard George Hill said. “It could happen. They won three in a row, why can’t we? The good thing is the elimination game is back home, at least for the first one.”

Sounds encouraging, except for this: Indiana fans are wise to the sputters of the past two months. They paid top dollar to see a once-dominant team lose its way against the likes of Atlanta and Washington. The crowds at Bankers Life, as a result, are never more than a 10-point deficit away from turning on their guys. Witnessing Roy Hibbert‘s trials and tribulations feels like eavesdropping on a psychologist’s session.

So the locals have come to expect the worst, which makes the home-court thing a lot more fragile. If the Pacers can go wire-to-wire the way they did in Game 1 against Miami, being at home will be a plus. If they falter early or considerably, they pretty much will be on their own.

“We need to win one game,” coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s all we’re thinking about right now.”

For Indiana, the math and the momentum breaks down like this: Game 5 is the must-win and the one that — losing it at home, getting bounced so early from the series (after going to seven last spring) — would sting the worst. Game 6 would be a bonus and one in which the Heat might feel pressure not to squander it, lest they all head back to Indianapolis. Game 7 would be, for the Pacers, right where they hoped to be since rolling out the balls in October.

Keep in mind, we never heard Indiana players talk about The Finals or actually winning the championship. Their entire season was predicated on beating Miami. It’s late now, very late, but Game 5 could be the start if the Pacers repeat their Game 1 play —  and for crying out loud, take better care with their passes  — against a Heat squad that’s much sharper now.

For Miami, of course, this is all opportunity. Sure, they get three bites at it if they need them, but there is so much more to gain by eliminating Indiana now.

It would give them maximum time off before The Finals begin June 5 in the Western Conference winner’s city. It would provide maximum rest while San Antonio and Oklahoma City slug it out for at least two more games. The Heat understand the value of rest, not just for Dwyane Wade‘s creaky knees or LeBron James‘ workload levels but for the nagging injuries that Ray Allen (hip and thigh) and Chris Andersen (thigh) brought to Indiana with them, making both questionable for Game 5.

It would provide the Heat maximum satisfaction, too, to clinch the East finals on the Pacers’ precious home court — and to do so two games early. Miami’s guys haven’t made it personal in their comments but, given their facial expressions and their reactions traditionally, you can sense a personal edge after stuff like Lance Stephenson‘s trash talk or Paul George‘s we-outplayed-them-but-lost parsing of Game 4.

“We understand the moment,” Wade said that night. “We’re never going to say we don’t.”

Said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: “I want to focus on trying to get to our best game, not about closing them out, not about moving on, not about any of that. Just compartmentalize, and can we push forward to have our best game of the series?”

If they do, it also will be their last game of the series. Indiana wants to keep playing right through the weekend. The Heat don’t … and probably won’t.

Blogtable: Larry Legend’s next move

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Indy’s big challenge | Wish he was here | Runaway Thunder


Indy's basketball braintrust: Larry Bird (left) and GM Kevin Pritchard (Kevin C. Cox, NBAE)

Indy’s basketball braintrust: Larry Bird (left) and GM Kevin Pritchard (Kevin C. Cox, NBAE)

> You’re Larry Bird. If the Pacers-Heat series ends up like it looks now — any doubts? — how can you get Indiana past Miami next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If I’m Larry Bird, one of the most deft passers in the NBA, I want to throttle several Pacers over the casual, even reckless way they pass the basketball. Whether getting the ball out of traps or delivering entry passes to the post, Indiana often looks amateurish — and has so for years. That’s a change from within (intensive training camp time), most likely, because who swaps out the roster for more accurate passers? But the Pacers need better perimeter shooting, too. And they have to find ways to better utilize Roy Hibbert offensively — if that’s not in the low post, then he has to sharpen up his shot repertoire.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Convince LeBron to go back to opt out and go back to Cleveland. Otherwise, you don’t. Will Bird really keep this team together? Does he overpay for Lance Stephenson? Does he find any way to regain trust in Roy Hibbert? Sometimes the door just closes.

David West, Roy Hibbert (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

David West, Roy Hibbert (Ron Hoskins/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: No doubts here that the Heat take the series and likely tonight in Game 5. How does Larry get the Pacers by the Heat next year? Hope LeBron James opts out and leaves, or better yet retires. Beyond what Bird can bring in (maybe one or two more veteran heads would help), he needs his high-dollar core guys — namely $29 million to Paul George and Roy Hibbert next season — to grow up.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’ve got big trouble. I have huge money invested in a center I needed to be THE difference-maker against a Heat team who was most vulnerable inside, and got a good- to very good regular season from Roy Hibbert … and then the guy went over the handlebars. My chances of getting someone better at the position are basically nonexistent. If I know where the regular-season Hibbert is hiding, getting him back is my offseason priority. That’s the only way I get the Pacers past the Heat next season, under the premise Miami stays together.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Pacers obviously need more offense, off the bench in particular. I would bring Lance Stephenson back and keep that starting unit intact (unless a point guard upgrade is available), but I’d try to use my mid-level exception on playmaking and/or shooting off the bench. Then, I’d encourage coach Frank Vogel to get a little more creative with the offense and to take a more Popovich-ian approach to playing time, so that when the chips are down, the starters are fresher and the reserves are more trusted and empowered.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I don’t have any doubts that this series ends with the Heat on top, if that’s what you mean. Making offseason moves to maneuver past the Heat will prove difficult because I’m not sure what moves the Heat will make. I don’t think this team, in its current form, is the one the Pacers and everyone else in the Eastern Conference will have to go through. I could stay the course with my current core and see if the Heat take a step back when and if Chris Bosh bolts for a max deal and his own seat in the No. 1 chair elsewhere. But I’d much rather shop Roy Hibbert and see what I can get for him (I never wanted to pay him what the Trail Blazers forced us into to keep him a couple years ago) and take my chance with Paul George, David West and Lance Stephenson as the core group of three stars to build around. I need to upgrade there and at point guard. And as much as I need star power, I need dependable guys who won’t shrink when the moment overwhelms them, guys who do what Marcin Gortat (a free agent this summer) did against Hibbert in the conference semifinals.

Vogel wants Pacers to focus on execution, not officiating


VIDEO: Frank Vogel addresses the media the day after Indiana’s Game 4 loss

MIAMI – After their 102-90 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, there was much griping from the Indiana Pacers about the officiating. Paul George referred to “home cooking” for the Miami Heat, while David West said his team had to learn the “new rules.”

The Pacers are down 3-1, facing elimination in Game 5 at home on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). And desperate times can call for desperate measures.

But less than 12 hours Monday’s deflating loss, Pacers coach Frank Vogel tried to get his team to refocus. His Tuesday morning message to his players before they flew back to Indianapolis was to “worry about what we can control. We know we’re going to have to play through adversity on the road in the playoffs. Our guys just need to put their focus on what we’re doing.”

“We can’t control calls. We got to control our turnovers, our shot selection, our passing, our defense.”

Tuesday’s focus was on offensive execution. The Pacers scored 90 points in a slow-paced game on Monday, but put themselves in a hole with an ugly first quarter and benefitted from the Heat taking their foot of the gas with a 23-point lead in the fourth.

Indiana looked rushed and flustered most of the night. The Miami defense has been increasingly active and physical as the series has gone along. And, as we’ve seen often with this matchup, the Pacers haven’t been able to handle it.

Instead of complaining about the officiating, Roy Hibbert was complaining about his lack of touches to ESPN after Game 4.

But Hibbert’s lack of touches is more about his teammates not being able to get him the ball than his coach not calling plays for him.

“Roy Hibbert’s hurt the Miami Heat more in the pick-and-roll game and on the glass in previous years,” Vogel said. “That’s where he’s put up his biggest numbers, while mixing in the post game. It’s not like he’s had success getting 20-30 post-ups a game. So that’s how we’re trying to utilize him and they’re doing a great job with their hands and deflecting those passes.”

These teams have now played 28 times in the last three seasons. The Heat know exactly what the Pacers are trying to do offensively and they’ve been able to take away their primary and secondary options, as well as force the Pacers to play fast with occasional pressure in the backcourt. So Vogel believes that his team needs to be better with its improvisational execution.

“We got to play through randomness,” he said. “That’s what their defense forces. It takes you out, often times, of what you’re trying to do offensively. And you got to play through random action. You got to create good shots through random action. That’s what attacking the Miami Heat’s about.”

The other end of the floor may be the bigger issue for the Pacers right now. The matchup of the No. 1 defense of the regular season and the No. 1 offense of the playoffs has gone decidedly the way of the latter. More important than Hibbert’s zero points has been the lack of rim protection he’s been able to provide. The Heat have shot 69 percent in the paint in the series, compared to 55 percent in last year’s conference finals and 59 percent in four regular season meetings vs. Indiana.

But if the Pacers execute better offensively, they’ll be able to get their defense set and have a fighting chance to slow down the Miami onslaught … and a fighting chance to make this series interesting again.


VIDEO: GameTime on the Pacers’ struggles in Game 4

Morning Shootaround — May 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Kings willing to trade for Love | Hibbert faults gameplan for his Game 4 stats | Report: Gentry to interview with Lakers, Cavs | Report: Knicks have early lead in ‘Melo sweepstakes

No. 1: Report: Kings willing to pull trigger on Love deal — Ever since the Sacramento Kings changed hands from the Maloof family to Vivek Ranadive‘s group last season, the Kings have not been afraid to pull the trigger on big trades (as deals to acquire Derrick Williams, Rudy Gay and others proved). According to Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears, the Kings might be willing to get into the mix for another big name — Minnesota Timberwolves star Kevin Love:

The Sacramento Kings have let the Minnesota Timberwolves know they are interested in trading for All-Star forward Kevin Love – and the Kings would make a deal without any assurance from Love he’d re-sign with them, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

The Kings are willing to give up their eighth overall pick in this year’s NBA draft and a combination of players for Love, even though he would not be expected to sign a contract extension before next season – if ever, with the rebuilding, small-market franchise, the source said. Sacramento envisions Love and DeMarcus Cousins playing alongside each other in the front court. Swingman Rudy Gay has a player’s option for next season.

The Kings know they’d have to gamble on convincing Love to re-sign, given that the franchise is rebuilding and Love is looking to play for a contender after never reaching the playoffs with the Timberwolves. Love’s suitors also figure to include a number of bigger markets, including the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.

Love’s representatives with Excel Sports have pushed Timberwolves president Flip Saunders to find an acceptable trade prior to the start of free agency in July. Without a trade, Love plans to opt out of his contract in the summer of 2015 and likely leave Minnesota as a free agent.

(more…)

Gentlemen, stop your engines, it’s over

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Pacers fall apart in a Game 4 loss to the Heat

MIAMI – The Indiana Pacers sought refuge wherever they could find it after their pivotal 102-90 loss Monday in the Eastern Conference finals, sending them down a 3-1 hole from which few teams in NBA history ever emerge.

Paul George surveyed the stat sheet afterward and, with a crafty selectivity, claimed that the Pacers outplayed the Miami Heat.

David West and George zeroed in on the free-throw count and the fact that Miami shot twice as many as they did and outscored them from the line by 19. West, tongue in cheek, specifically referred to some “new rules” on which he’ll bone up, to make sure he gets those same whistles next time.

Coach Frank Vogel and several Pacers brushed off the notion that Lance Stephenson‘s needless tweaking of LeBron James had any motivating effect on the four-time MVP (32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) or ill effect on the brash, immature Indiana shooting guard (nine points, five fouls). But just in case, West and George wagged verbal fingers in Lad Lance’s direction as a reminder to knock it off.

Vogel touted his defense, saying it was Indiana’s best performance at that end in the series. West lauded his side for fighting “in the meat of the game,” while acknowledging a few pesky runs by Miami. George went even further: “I thought we did a great job. We rallied at the end to try to make a push.”

Puh-leeze.

With all due respect, those various excuses, interpretations and selective memory rang as hollow as the big zero sitting on the right side of Roy Hibbert‘s stat line.

They sounded like the sort of things the Pacers will be saying all summer, which figures to start three weeks early in Indiana this year. Possibly as soon as Wednesday.

This series is over, and it has only a little to do with the history involved. For the record, only eight teams in NBA history ever climbed out of 3-1 holes in best-of-seven series to advance. More pertinent, Miami – in the Big Three era of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – has pushed eight postseason series to 3-1; eight times, it closed them out in Game 5.

That’s on the Heat’s radar again and there’s precious little the Pacers can do about it.

“We don’t want to come back with a Game 6,” James said. “We love our fans, obviously. We love being in Miami, but we want to try to close it out. But we’re going to have to work for it. It’s not going to be easy, not against this team.”

Not easy? Fine. But not nearly as hard as it was supposed to be, going by the seven games Indiana and Miami played against each other in last year’s East finals, going by the genuine dislike that has festered across three seasons with the Heat hoarding what the Pacers want.

Judged by and based on the first four months of the 2013-14 regular season, this was supposed to be a classic, champs pushed to the max by challengers, a dynasty at stake and all the other intriguing or corny storylines. But then the Pacers got sideways and sputtered through the season’s final weeks and their first two rounds against Atlanta (seven games) and Washington (six).

The Heat had to notice. It’s likely, even, they had more respect for and fear of last year’s Indiana team than this one.

It was evident after Game 1, when the Pacers went wire-to-wire but knew they hadn’t faced a sharp opponent, in the way the Heat easily shrugged off the loss in their postgame dressing room. It was obvious in Game 2, when one turbocharged fourth-quarter by James and Wade was all it took for Miami to snatch that game and home-court advantage. And it was impossible to miss in Game 3, as the Heat tore the Pacers’ early 15-point lead to pieces and left them, really, with nowhere to turn.

Miami did benefit from a few shaky whistles but that was due more to the ball and the referees rewarding the aggressors. Bosh’s early shooting success was a sweat-inducing flashback to the first round, when Atlanta rendered Hibbert irrelevant by stretching Indiana’s defense by deploying big men with shooting range.

The start of the second half was inexcusable from the Pacers’ side, their labors to stay within five points at the break cast aside when the Heat opened with an 11-4 spurt. And though it’s true the Pacers could grumble about a couple late calls when they might have cut the gap to single digits with time enough to do something about it, there still was the matter of everything they’d done or been unable to do in falling behind 10 or more.

The bottom line on this is, the Pacers know Miami is the better team. The Heat, to use the unfortunate imagery floating around over the weekend, are the Pacers’ big brothers at least. Maybe even their fathers.

Indiana’s body language, most frequently after defensive breakdowns, told the tale. There were occasions when George or Stephenson or George Hill grumbled about this or that and blew off getting back as their first priority. The third quarter was the worst, Indiana getting outscored by 11 points in that period for the second straight game.

And then there was that open Norris Cole 3-pointer early in the fourth, which none of the Indiana defenders even bothered to contest.

This was the Indiana team that went on walkabout at various points in the season’s final weeks. Hibbert let the Heat’s floor spacing neuter him, and he got in foul trouble too, spiraling down into a scoreless, five-rebound, 0-for-4 night. These were the sub-.500 Pacers who frustrated and aggravated so many of their fans from March on, a team that has little business playing on or after Memorial Day.

Are big changes in order for Game 5 Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis? Who knows. Maybe Vogel boosts the minutes for West and Luis Scola in tandem. Maybe he has a quicker hook with Hibbert. Maybe he talks to or somehow implores a bigger game out of George.

It won’t ultimately matter. The Pacers know the truth about them and Miami. And the Heat know that they know.

“I don’t know,” West said. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do. We’re going to watch film. We’ve got to get adjusted. Figure out the best way to get production. But our defense has got to hold up.

“I don’t think anybody feels defeated. The series isn’t over. We know we’re going home to a crazy environment. At this point, it’s just surviving to get to the next game.”

The Pacers aren’t yet admitting defeat. They might not even feel defeated. But they sure looked defeated, with one more snapshot coming as soon as Wednesday.

‘First to 48 minutes’ could grab big edge

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Let’s Go! A look back at the first three games of the Eastern Conference finals

MIAMI – First to 100? Fifty percent shooting? Twelve or fewer turnovers?

As beguiling as those and other specific statistics can be to NBA teams and their head coaches, there’s one number that looms largest heading into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals (tonight, 8:30 p.m., ESPN):

Forty-eight minutes.

Erik Spoelstra (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Erik Spoelstra (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Both the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers are focused on playing one full game from start to finish, free from early mistakes or late swoons, as the key to grabbing control in the best-of-seven series. So far, of six possibilities (three games each, per team), there has been only one fully satisfying performance: Indiana in Game 1. The Pacers went wire-to-wire in the opener to go up 1-0, but let Game 2 slip away late and squandered a dominant start in Game 3.

The Heat, meanwhile, feel they have played barely well enough — the fourth quarter in Game 2 and a little more than one half in Game 3 — to justify their 2-1 series lead. Coach Erik Spoelstra isn’t interested in any 19-5 deficits like he and the Heat got in the first nine minutes or so Saturday.

“You can say we’ve been out of rhythm, weren’t able to score,” Spoelstra said after his team’s shootaround session Monday. “Our turnovers last game. But they have a very good defense.

‘This is a competitive series so it’s not only us — you have to credit them for why we haven’t been able to put together consistent basketball, the type of identity that we want to impose. You have two forces going at each other, but that’s the challenge — can we impose our will more?”

The Heat had seven turnovers in a span of 5:13 in the first quarter of Game 3, the Pacers converting those into nine points. That makes for a rather obvious agenda item in this one.

“Just coming out and taking better care of the ball,” forward Chris Bosh said. “We feel if we focus on that, making sure we get open shots and beginning the game moving the ball, we’ll be right in our wheelhouse. I think our defense is going to take care of itself and if we get open shots, it’s going to work for us.”

To put this series in baseball terms on Memorial Day, Miami craves a quality start when it takes the mound at AmericanAirlines Arena. Indiana is focused more on its bullpen, given its midgame troubles in Game 3 and El Gasolino closing performances in both defeats.

Coughing up leads can take an emotional toll, too. The Pacers have had enough.

“We’ve shown we can outplay this team for long stretches,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said, “but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t put it all together into a complete game. That’s what our mindset’s on.”

It defeats the purpose of grabbing a lead if a team is going to fret about the ways in which it might fritter it away. Said forward David West: “We can’t have a bad three- or four-minute stretch where we let them back into the game or let them take control of the game. We’ve got to be in desperation mode. You don’t want to go down two games in this series.”

Only eight teams in playoff history have recovered from a 3-1 deficit. Since LeBron James signed with Miami, the Heat are 8-0 in Game 5s when they hold a 3-1 edge in a series.

Indiana can restore equilibrium to this series by grabbing back home-court advantage with a Game 4 victory, or it can put itself completely on its heels facing as many as three straight elimination games.

Other shootaround notes:

  • Rashard Lewis‘ Game 3 reserve performance, primarily to defend West when Bosh got into foul trouble, produced what Spoelstra called “one of my favorite stat lines of all time in the playoffs. Basically zeroes all the way across the board.” Lewis played 17:26, missed two shots, had one block but no rebounds or assists and went scoreless. “If you weren’t a real basketball enthusiast, you would think he had a nothing impact on the game,” the Heat coach said. “Yet he had a plus-21. That just shows if you’re pure and if you play to only help your group, regardless of what it may be, you can have a great impact and you can have a moment in the playoffs.”
  • Coping with Miami’s swarming, trapping defense is trouble for the Pacers for a couple of reasons. As West said, it speeds up Indiana’s way of doing things, contrary to their preferred pace. Secondly, it puts pressure on the Pacers to make Miami pay at the rim, which it could not manage in Game 3. “We got to the rim several times, but had turnovers or missed layups or blocked shots,” Vogel said. “That’s where we’ve got to be smarter about how we finish when we do attack.”
  • Some members of the media poked at the Lance Stephenson vs. James trash-talking silliness for a second consecutive day, after Stephenson said Sunday that James’ responding to him was a sign of weakness. It was an overplayed angle from the start, and Bosh did his best to snuff it Monday. Asked if Stephenson could get in James’ head with his yammering, the Heat forward said: “If getting in his head is averaging 27 points, then I hope he stays there.”

Pacers need a lift from their bench

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew previews Game 4 of the Heat-Pacers series

MIAMI – Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup has outscored the Miami Heat (by 29 points) in its floor time in the Eastern Conference finals. But when the Pacers have had one or more reserves on the floor, they’ve been pretty awful (minus-34). And thus, they’re down 2-1 with a need to get Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Yes, this is the same story as we had in last year’s conference finals, when the Pacers’ starters were a plus-49 in seven games and all other Indiana lineups were a minus-77.

With that in mind, reworking the bench was the focus of the Pacers’ summer. They traded for Luis Scola and signed C.J. Watson and Chris Copeland. But in the regular season, lineups that included at least one reserve were only slightly better (plus-2.0 points per 100 possessions) than they were last season (plus-1.8).

In February, the Pacers signed Andrew Bynum and traded Danny Granger for Evan Turner, moves that somehow threw their starters in a funk. They’ve been better in the postseason, but the bench is back to bringing the Pacers down.

The playoff numbers aren’t as bad as they were last season, but Indiana lineups with at least one reserve on the floor have been pretty dreadful offensively and have been outscored by 4.4 points per 100 possessions in 16 games. In this series, they’ve been awful on both ends of the floor and have been outscored by 30.3.

Scola scored eight straight points in the second quarter on Saturday, but has shot 2-for-11 otherwise. Ian Mahinmi has played just 23 minutes in three games. Turner has played just three, and managed to dribble straight into a triple-team upon entering Game 3. Watson has the worst plus-minus (minus-31 in 58 minutes) in the series.

The only reserve that hasn’t hurt the Pacers in this series is Rasual Butler. Meanwhile, the Heat have gotten lifts from Ray Allen, Chris Andersen, Norris Cole and Rashard Lewis, all of whom have been trusted and empowered much more than anyone on Indiana’s bench.

That’s why some of this has to come back on Pacers coach Frank Vogel. In a sprint for the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage (which they lost in Game 2) from the start of the season, the Pacers weren’t willing to sacrifice games to develop their bench. Over the last two seasons, the Indiana starting lineup has played almost twice as many minutes (3,429) as any other lineup in the league.

Part of that is health. They’ve been fortunate that none of their starters have missed more than eight games in either season.

Part of it is dependence. When the starters are much better than the reserves, teams tend to stick with them for longer minutes.

But part of it is a lack of foresight. Scola, Watson and Mahinmi had regular roles during the season, but guys like Copeland and Butler were basically used in garbage time.

And so, while the Heat can adjust their lineup however they need to according to the matchup or who’s playing well (witness Cole and Allen helping them destroy Indiana in Saturday’s fourth quarter), the Pacers are rather rigid.

When his team is struggling to match up with Miami’s small lineup in transition and David West is chasing Allen around multiple screens, there’s little Vogel can do. He isn’t going to take West off the floor, because he’s his most stable and dependable player. If he benches Roy Hibbert, Vogel has lost his rim protection against the best rim attacker in the league.

Foul trouble is another problem. With George Hill and Paul George forced to sit extra minutes in Game 3, the Pacers’ defense didn’t hold up. Lance Stephenson was forced to play all of the final three quarters and looked gassed as the Heat pulled away in the fourth.

In its last six wins, Miami has outscored its opponents in the fourth quarter by an average score of 26.5-19.5. The Heat haven’t been superb all game, every game, but they get it done when they need to.

Might the Pacers’ starters be able to hang with the champs better in the fourth quarter if their reserves had given them a little more production and rest earlier in the game?

That question may still linger if Indiana doesn’t turn this series back around on Monday. To do that, they’ll need more production from the bench.

Stephenson pokes the bear again

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson and LeBron James ramp up trash talk in Game 3

MIAMI – With some people, a playoff series can’t be just about basketball. Lance Stephenson appears to be one of those people.

After Pacers’ practice on Sunday, Stephenson was asked about going back-and-forth with LeBron James in these Eastern Conference finals. The pair appeared to exchange pleasantries in the first quarter of Game 3 as Indiana was building a 15-point lead.

Stephenson talking to James is nothing new. James talking back is. And Stephenson believes it means that he’s doing something right.

“To me, I think it’s a sign of weakness,” Stephenson said of James’ response. “Because he never used to say nothing to me. I always used to be the one that said, ‘I’m going to get under you. I’m going to do something to get you mad.’ Now, he’s doing it to me. So I feel like it’s a weakness. I feel like I’m doing something right and I’m getting under his skin.”

James spoke to the media before Stephenson did, so he hasn’t yet had a chance to respond the the “sign of weakness” remark. You can be sure he’ll be asked about it before Game 4 on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

“I’m not much of a talker,” James said earlier Sunday afternoon. “I don’t ever start it but I can get involved in it and still keep my head. Winning the game is more important. I understand what the main goal is.”

Stephenson acknowledged that he can’t get caught up in it either.

“I love it when someone challenges me,” Stephenson said. “It’s really not about me and him, though. It’s about the team. We got to have our player’s step up and have each other’s back. It’s not me against him, if he scores, I’m going to try to score. It’s more of a team.”

Stephenson added that it’s nothing personal.

“This is basketball,” he said. “I don’t really have no beef with him. It’s just basketball. When you’re on the court, there’s no friends. Just basketball. I don’t want to get into the off-the-court stuff. It’s just on the court, basketball toughness, and never bowing down.”

Pacers coach Frank Vogel knows that Lance is going to be Lance and doesn’t believe that poking the bear is going to make the bear any more dangerous than he already is.

“I don’t think it matters one way or the other,” Vogel said of Stephenson’s trash talking. “If he’s silent or if he’s talking, both guys are playing as hard as they can.”

James would prefer to avoid the storyline altogether, referencing a previous narrative with DeShawn Stevenson, whom he faced in the postseason, both with Cleveland (against Washington) and Miami (against Dallas).

“One thing I’m not going to do is give a storyline of LeBron versus Stephenson,” James said. “I’ve already been involved in a LeBron versus Stephenson in my playoff career so I’m not going to do it.”

Some storylines just can’t be avoided, however.

Film Study: Allen takes advantage of matchups, lapses to put Pacers away

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: All of Allen’s clutch 3-pointers from Game 3

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. (more…)

A strong start, then Pacers lose way

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Paul George talks after the Pacers’ Game 3 loss

MIAMI – If you had a friend who’d spent the past seven months abroad and wanted a quick catch-up on what’s gone on in that time with the Indiana Pacers, all you’d need to do is point him or her to replay of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday night.

The game’s arc mirrored the trajectory of the Pacers’ season: Terrific start, smart execution of strategy and all sorts of pinch-me rewards that flowed from that. Then, serious lapses in their care and feeding of the basketball, followed by a blown lead, an embarrassing drop in the quality of their play and a stew of scowls and dejection where once there had been smiles and elation.

It might not be too late for the Pacers to pull out of what looked an awful lot like a tailspin in the closing minutes of their 99-87 loss. But if they do, they’re going to have to solve a whole lot of what Miami threw at them and track down a corresponding amount of their own game and mojo by the time Game 4 tips Monday night, right back at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Familiar bad habits did in the Pacers, once the Heat unleashed the hounds of their pressing, trapping defense. They’re a tentative and reckless bunch initiating offense even in the best of times and, down 2-1 in the series, these definitely are not the best of times.

Indiana had a chance in Game 2 to shove Miami back to 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, a relative crisis by the Heat’s standards, and couldn’t do it Tuesday. It had everything going its way in the first half of Game 3, then reverted to sloppiness, freelancing and the sort of breakdowns that – given the stage, given the stakes – can be characterized as irresponsible.

“The way we started off the game,” forward David West said in the sterile visitors’ dressing room, “we came out and we were doing exactly what we talked about yesterday and in the shootaround [Saturday] morning. Then we just weren’t able to stay with it. And I thought it burned us down the stretch, particularly the close, the last two or three minutes of every single quarter.

“Their pressure, their ability to speed us up. We really should be able to handle what they’re throwing at us, particularly this late in the year.”

The Pacers couldn’t handle LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Ray Allen, who scored 47 points in the second half to Indiana’s 45. They couldn’t handle the extra defenders who swarmed whichever Pacer had the ball. They couldn’t handle the pressure, at the point of attack or of the circumstances overall.

All because, at root, they couldn’t handle the ball. Coughing it up against double teams or simply daring to try low-percentage passes, Indiana’s 19 turnovers led directly to 26 of Miami’s points.

“We just had turnover after turnover,” groused Lance Stephenson, who committed three. West had five and guard George Hill four.

“We’ve just got to be sharp, take care of the ball,” Stephenson said. “We were averaging about 11 turnovers for eight games, then we had [19] tonight. … They just pressured us. We collapsed.”

The dearth of poise for a veteran team so focused in its quest this season was unnerving. This wasn’t just a Stephenson meltdown, this was West firing the ball out of bounds or Hill flippantly flinging it over his head and hoping when trapped by two Heat defenders.

As for losing track of Allen – a brand name by now as a postseason 3-point backbreaker – in transition, that’s on all of them. The notion that West could chase Allen around and through a gauntlet of screens was folly on its face, but not accounting for him when the Heat got into the open court was equal parts masochistic and amateurish.

Part of the reason for it was Indiana going big relative to Miami’s small – and then not making the Heat pay a price. Instead of continuing to find ways for West and Roy Hibbert to assert themselves in the paint – those two scored 17 of their team’s 21 first-quarter points – the Pacers got rattled by Miami’s ball pressure and neglected or never forced things with their bigs.

“We just went away from it,” said Paul George, who was hampered in minutes and rhythm by foul trouble rather than any lingering effects of his concussion in Game 2. “That’s definitely got to be an emphasis to the team, going inside to our bigs.”

As Miami roared defensively and blew past Indiana – its first lead of the night came at 7:36 of the third quarter, and 21 seconds into the fourth Miami went up by 10 – the Pacers’ fight seemed to lag, their effort in chasing down yet another Heat breakout appeared to wane. Coach Frank Vogel claims that his guys have “a ton” of resiliency left, but many of his players’ body language near the end had gone NSFW.

It’s the same pattern the Pacers showed from preseason to postseason, an inability to put the hammer down when things were going good and a preference, it seems, for forever staying the underdog, responding best when backed into a corner.

Congratulations then, Pacers, you’ve put yourself right where you like to be.