Posts Tagged ‘George Hill’

Dog days just starting for George’s Indiana teammates


VIDEO: Larry Bird expresses his goals for the 2014-15 Indiana Pacers

Unbridled enthusiasm at the start of any NBA season is natural. Irrational exuberance, that’s something quite different, particularly for the Indiana Pacers this fall.

Maybe that’s why Larry Bird put back in perspective Tuesday any overly optimistic prognoses for star wing player Paul George‘s rehab and return. Yes, the world has seen footage of the Pacers’ hobbled All-Star on the court hoisting perimeter shots. It even has seen him playing a little 1-on-1 with his dog (we’ll leave any snarky comments about rival defenders to you guys).

But that’s a long, long way from the rigors and demands of NBA basketball, as Bird reminded a group of reporters. Paul, who suffered multiple fractures of his lower right leg in a gruesome injury at the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas in early August, still is likely to miss the entire 2014-15 season.

“He’s got a rod in his leg. Holding that bone together. And it’s gotta heal,” the Pacers’ president of basketball operations said. “Looks good against his dog, and while he’s standing out there in front of you guys it looks pretty good. Other than that, he don’t do nothin’.”

George being around the team, when he’s not immersed in rehab, is good for his and his teammates’ psyches. But as determined as he has to be in his comeback from the nasty mishap, that’s how the other Pacers have to approach a difficult season that grew more grim as lesser injuries stacked up in the preseason. Power forward David West (ankle sprain) and guards George Hill (knee), C.J. Watson (foot) and Rodney Stuckey (foot) all missed time and will be unavailable or, in Stuckey’s case, limited in the team’s opener Wednesday.

Not that a Bird team would have room for sissies anyway, but the short-term figures to be rather trying. The team’s bench will be thinned by all the reserves — Luis Scola, Donald Sloan, C.J. Miles, Solomon Hill — pressed into starters’ minutes.

“We’re gonna play,” Bird said. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen. These [backup] guys are not used to playing a lot of minutes, they’re going to. It’s not really just taking your lumps. It’s just playin’ — and tryin’ to get better as we go.”

For the franchise that began last season with championship ambitions and began the postseason as the East’s No. 1 seed, the expectations have been dampened. With a roster full at 15, there’s no Bird, McHale or Parish walking through that door — or George either.

“Even when I was playin’, I was out one whole year and we had some of the guys dinged up, but somehow we found a way to battle and win some games,” Bird said. “Our expectation is to get in the playoffs. That’s what we want to do. We’re down a little bit right now, but we think we can make up for it.”

Bird heaped some praised on George Hill for the improvement he had shown before getting hurt. Also, besides cautioning the media against fast-tracking hopes about George’s return, he warned against expecting too much from center Roy Hibbert, a former All-Star whose play dropped off badly last spring. He’s not going to become Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar offensively, just by process of elimination or the fact that he has been tutored by both.

“Nah. Roy’s not that type of player,” Bird said. “Roy’s a defensive player. He’s got to protect the rim and, obviously, I’d like to see him score a few more points but not a lot. I think it’s important for him to rebound better than he has in the past, but we’re not putting a lot of weight on Roy’s shoulders because that’s not the type of player he is.”

The weight is on all of the Pacers and, frankly, until a lot of time and healing passes, it probably will be a little more than they can bear.

Pacers need Hill to attack leading role

DALLAS – It remains a mutually beneficial trade for both sides, yet it could have been just a bit awkward for Indiana Pacers guard George Hill to watch his old team pulverize the one team his never could, and then see the player he was traded for, Kawhi Leonard, celebrated as the Finals MVP.

Hill, however, said nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kawhi is a good friend of mine,” Hill said Sunday as the Pacers’ preseason trek brought them to Dallas. “I’m happy for his success. I’m happy for the Spurs’ success. If we’re not winning, you know, I root for them. I’m still good friends with everyone in that organization and with everyone on that team. All of them are like my brothers.”

Which is as good a segue as any when talking about these Pacers, because they’re using training camp to try to bond like brothers following a summer — and really starting from the second half of last season — of tumult. Shooting guard and the NBA’s surprising triple-double leader, Lance Stephenson, departed for Charlotte as a free agent. All-Star forward Paul George, the emerging star who allowed the Pacers to deal Leonard for point guard help in 2011, emotionally shook the franchise, and the league, when he broke his leg during the Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas.

And just like that, the Pacers are a much different team, and one that will be asking Hill to bring a much different game than he really ever has, either with the Spurs where he was mostly a reserve surrounded by the Big Three, or in Indiana, where its two no-longer-available wings were so often the point of attack.

“He’s just going to have the ball in his hands more, have his number called a lot more,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted him to be aggressive, but I think he understands that that’s needed more than ever. Years past he would be aggressive at times, but the ball would be in Lance and Paul’s hands a lot.  So a lot of times he was the secondary option; most times he was the secondary option. He’s going to be more of a primary option this year.”

Vogel compared it back to when Hill first arrived.

“Before Danny Granger got hurt and Paul George and Lance Stephenson exploded, our go-to guys were David West and George Hill, and it’s just going to return to that,” Vogel said. “And they did that on a team that in the lockout season won at a 50-win pace as the two late-game go-to guys.”

That team turned a 37-45 record in 2010-11 to 42-24 with Hill backing up Darren Collison before taking over as the starter late in the season. The Pacers advanced to the East semifinals. And maybe they can again this season in an unpredictable Eastern Conference.

The reorganizing Heat and Pacers have been replaced by LeBron James‘ new team, the Cavaliers, and the Bulls as conference favorites. Washington, Toronto, Brooklyn and Stephenson’s Charlotte Hornets could all make some noise.

“Defense wins games, so as long as we continue to play defense the right way, I think we’re going to win a lot of games,” Hill said. “We’re going to have to use our defense as our offense.”

Even so, there’s little doubt that Hill will need to boost his scoring and playmaking for the Pacers not to drop to the lower rungs of the playoff chase. Hill averaged 10.3 points and 3.5 assists while logging 32 minutes a game last season. He shot 44.2 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from beyond the arc. He ranked 96th in the league, according to NBA.com’s player tracking data, in number of drives to the basket. To put that low number in some perspective, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook registered 99 more drives to the basket even though he played in 30 fewer games.

“Obviously he’s going to have to play a bigger role for us. He’s got to be aggressive,” West said. “It’s going to be a different role and adjustment for him, but he’s going to work himself into it, get comfortable with it. The last couple of years we’ve attacked from the wings. He’s going to have to be the point of attack for us, to really look to take his game to another level.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 30


VIDEO: The Miami Heat are 4-for-4 in attempts at making The Finals, the first time in 27 years a team has done it 4 straight times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – History in the making.

History still to be made.

It’s all still on the table for the Miami Heat.

Four straight trips to The Finals. The opportunity to three-peat. 

“I’m blessed,” LeBron James said. “We won’t take this opportunity for granted. This is an unbelievable franchise, this is an unbelievable group.”

The Finals rematch is up next, the San Antonio Spurs (2013) or Oklahoma City Thunder (2012) will help the Heat finish that chapter of this championship story.

But The Finals is all the Heat have known in the Big 3 era. It’s all James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and crew have known since they came together.

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Greg Oden is going to The Finals!

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Three years running they go out on the wrong end of the Heat’s blade …

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This time, Hibbert meets LeBron


VIDEO: Heat vs. Pacers: Game 5

INDIANAPOLIS – This go-around, Roy Hibbert was on the floor.

Travel back in time to Game 1 of last year’s conference finals in Miami. The Indiana Pacers led by one with just 2.2 seconds left in overtime. And Pacers coach Frank Vogel took Hibbert — “the best rim protector in the game” in Vogel’s own words — off the floor, so that his team could switch all screens and stay with the Miami Heat’s shooters, including Chris Bosh.

LeBron James caught the inbounds pass at the 3-point line and Paul George got caught out too high. James immediately turned and darted to the basket. Hibbert wasn’t there and James laid in the game-winning bucket at the buzzer.

“It’s the dilemma that they present,” Vogel said after the loss. “Obviously, with the way it worked out, it would have been better to have Roy in the game. But you don’t know. If that happens, maybe Bosh is making the jump shot, and we’re all talking about that.”

At the end of Game 5 of this year’s Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, we saw a very similar situation. The Pacers were holding on to a two-point lead with 12.8 seconds left.

James caught the inbounds pass and was isolated at the top of the key with George. And once again, he got past him.

But this time Hibbert was on the floor, and he met James at the rim…

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“We didn’t want to give up a 3,” Vogel said afterward. “But we didn’t want to give up LeBron James at the rim, like we’d done the past two. So we made sure we had rim protection and scrambled on the 3-point line.”

James, as he always does, made the pass to the open man, Bosh in the corner. It was the scenario that Vogel was planning against last year. And with this one being a two-point game instead of a one-point game, the value of the shot meant something this time.

“Thought we got a pretty good look,” James said. “You live with the result.”

“He went for the kill,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ll take that. We’ll take being able to get two feet in the paint, an opportunity to either score yourself or have an opportunity for one of our better clutch 3-point shooters in his spot. That actually was good to see that poise.”

When the Heat came back to win Game 2 on this floor, their second-half run began with a few plays just like this. Spanning the third and fourth quarters, they hit three corner 3s (one from Bosh and two from Norris Cole) on plays just like this one. James got to the basket, drew an extra defender and found an open teammate with a bullet pass. It’s the Heat’s bread-and-butter.

“My teammates trust me that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win,” James said. “I trust myself that I’m going to make the right play to helps us win. And win, lose or draw, you live with that.

“We got a great look. C.B. makes that shot, then we get a stop and we’re headed to The Finals.”

As Spoelstra noted, Bosh was one of the best clutch 3-point shooters in the league in the regular season, shooting 16-for-31 (52 percent) on 3s in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less. He’s had a knack for hitting big shots from distance.

But he’s usually wide open on those plays. On Wednesday, George Hill was able to get in Bosh’s vision and provide an on-the-side shot contest.

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Hill was able to do that because Miami’s spacing was not ideal. When James hit the paint, Bosh, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis were all on the right side of the floor, with Allen and Lewis bunched together at the right wing.

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So when Hibbert helped on the drive, Hill didn’t have far to travel to contest Bosh. And when he did, David West had already rotated over to Allen.

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“I asked Ray,” Bosh said later. “I said, ‘Were you open?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he came off me.’”

But the only guy open was Lewis at the top of the key. And that’s a tough pass for Bosh to make, especially with West in his line of sight.

The Pacers defended the play well, but the Heat gave them some help. If Lewis had been quicker to fill in behind James at the top of the key, the spacing might have been better and Indiana’s rotations would have been tougher.

A feigned pick-and-roll where Lewis flares out to the left wing as James drives past would also have left just one Indiana defender to defend Bosh and Allen on the right side. A kick to Bosh and a swing to Allen may have resulted in the one of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history being all alone beyond the arc.

But the Heat still got a decent look. And both teams were willing to live with the results.

“LeBron is the smartest player in this league,” George said. “He’s going to make the right play, and he thought that was the right play. They made 15 3s tonight. So obviously, they were hot behind the 3-point line. He found a 3-point shooter that’s been hot lately for them in Chris Bosh. We were fortunate he missed. We walk away with a win.”

24 – Second thoughts — May 28


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson and the Pacers with the #ByAnyMeansNecessary approach

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Lance Stephenson didn’t spend any time in the head of LeBron James in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. But he did blow in his ear, when LeBron was actually on the floor.

Foul trouble kept LeBron on the bench (he played 24 minutes) and the Pacers, mainly Paul George, took full advantage (a magical and mesmerizing 31 of his 37 points game after halftime) in order to keep their season alive.

So we’ll get a Game 6 Friday, a game that wouldn’t have been possible without George and the Pacers holding on down the wild and frantic final stretch of Game 5.

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Paul George … Winning!

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Heat with one last chance, down 92-90 with a chance to win it when LeBron finds Chris Bosh for a corner 3 that bounces off the rim.

(more…)

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.

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.

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.

Pressure D sparks Heat to Game 3 win

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com


VIDEO: Pacers vs. Heat: Game 3

MIAMI – The Miami Heat needed a jump start in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday. After a brutal first quarter, they had just 38 points and trailed by four points at halftime.

Their defense was decent in the first 24 minutes, but still could get better. It has come and gone all season, often suffering from a lack of energy. And when a defensive scheme that’s built around activity is played without it, the results … well, they speak for themselves.

“When we lay back,” LeBron James said, “everything that we’ve built, it just doesn’t work.”

And at this point in the postseason, the Heat can’t be counting on fourth-quarter offense to win them games.

Early in the second half on Saturday, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra had his team initiate its defense in the backcourt, a decision that led to a 61-45 second half and a 99-87 victory for the Heat, giving them a 2-1 series lead.

The initial results weren’t good. The first time the Heat sent a second defender at George Hill as he brought the ball up the floor, he went straight to the basket and got an and-one on a running bank shot. On the next possession, he did the same thing and drew Chris Bosh‘s fourth foul.

But a third straight press-breaking drive by Hill resulted in an offensive foul. Two possessions later, the Heat trapped Paul George at midcourt. He got the ball to David West, who found a cutting Lance Stephenson with an open lane to the basket. But Stephenson’s feet came out from under him as he rose for a layup, and he tossed the ball into the bottom of the rim, a botch that led to a James dunk and the Heat’s first lead of the game.

The pressure defense got Indiana out of sorts.

“They just pressured us,” Stephenson said afterward. “We collapsed. We just turned the ball over and we just never responded – we were too late to respond when they put pressure on us.”

More important was what the pressure defense did to the Heat themselves. It got them engaged. Spoelstra essentially forced his team to play with more energy, and they responded.

That James dunk was Miami’s seventh straight score. The Pacers were unable to cut off the paint and James and Dwyane Wade were taking the ball right at Roy Hibbert.

Defensively, they didn’t pick up in the backcourt much after those first few minutes of the third quarter. Like a zone, that scheme can’t sustain you long-term against NBA talent.

But the defense still picked up. The Heat were more active throughout the second half. They kept the Pacers from initiating their offense by denying easy catches at the elbow. And their rotations were sharper and quicker.

One fourth quarter possession stood out. With Indiana down just five, Chris Bosh met West’s roll out high and Wade rotated from the weak side to deflect West’s pass to Roy Hibbert under the basket. Though the Heat were playing small, their quickness and energy didn’t allow the Pacers to take advantage.

Stops led to early offense, drives to the paint, trips to the free-throw line, and Ray Allen draining 3s. The Heat’s forte, basically.

That’s what Spoelstra had been looking for. He said that the Pacers dictated the pace and played their style more than the Heat played theirs in the first two games of the series.

“For the most part,” Spoelstra said, “for the first two games and even for a large part of the first half of this game, it was played in their wheelhouse, on their terms.”

Not so in the second half of Game 3. The switch was flipped, and it started with the coach’s decision to start defending in the backcourt.

That move could have backfired if the defensive energy wasn’t there or if the Pacers could have executed better. Instead, it was just what the Heat needed to raise their energy level on both ends of the floor.

“We looked like we were stuck in mud in the first quarter,” Spoelstra said. “That’s a big credit to how they dictated the game. We can’t play this series on their terms. So that was just to get our energy going, to force us to make multiple efforts, and it activated our guys for this game.”

The Pacers’ offense was actually more efficient in the second half than they were in the first. But that energy carryover from defense to offense helped the Heat score 61 points on 41 possessions (149 per 100) over the final 24 minutes.

They’re a better offensive team than they are a defensive team. But the two ends of the floor are linked. When they defend, they start going downhill offensively. And when they’re at their best, the Heat can overpower the No. 1 defense in the league.

“We have to play our type of basketball,” James said. “We have to be disruptive. We have to speed up the team that we’re going against, and we have to fly around defensively.

“We’re an attack team. When we get into our game, so many things happen for us, and we’re even able to cover up for some of the mistakes we make both offensively and defensively.”

Now, they have to do it again in Game 4 on Monday.