The Indiana Pacers aren’t going to win the Eastern Conference Finals with their bench or some rabbit out of the hat. It’s going to be about their best players: Paul George, Roy Hibbert and George Hill, playing like they did in the 97-93 win in Game 2, tying the series at 1-1.
Because they got only 5 points from their bench, with only D.J. Augustin and Sam Young playing more than 10 minutes in the game. No one in the starting lineup played less than 39 minutes, which might become especially important as the series move forward, especially where Roy Hibbert and David West are concerned.
Hibbert couldn’t have had a better game. He scored 29 points, including 20 in the paint, and doing extremely well on Pick & Roll plays, scoring 14 points as the roll man for the Pacers, leading to the 97-93 win. But it was also his defensive presence, probably more than anything, that gave the Pacers the win in another close game. LeBron James was quite perplexed when driving to the basket while Hibbert was on the floor, turning the ball over four times, including twice in the final 48 seconds. The Heat shot 8-of-21 on drives to the basket with Hibbert on the floor, compared to their 75% on such plays so far in the series in the 21 minutes he has spent off of it.
But the question is how much longer can Hibbert carry on playing 39-40 minutes a game. He averaged 28.7 minutes per game during the regular season and so far is playing 35.6 in the playoffs. These 40 minutes games once every two nights are manageable, but for Hibbert, who tends to get slower and less effective offensively during the second half of games, might start to break down if he doesn’t get rested a bit more often.
But that’s the problem for the Pacers, who seem like a completely different team, especially early in the game, with Hibbert or with someone else. They don’t try to play small-ball against the Heat, because that’s close to basketball suicide. Their advantage is their size: David West had a bad shooting game with only 2-9 from the field, but he’s a problem for Shane Battier and generally the Heat.
The Same goes for George Hill on a fantastic recovery after a terrible opening game. The Heat couldn’t stop the Pacers’ Pick & Roll (1.24 points per possession), with George Hill using the Heat’s problems with Hibbert to the max, scoring 19 points. And then there’s Paul George, who is doing what’s expected of him and more.
George finished with 22 points, but has been extremely efficient when LeBron James was guarding him, which just goes to show just what kind of big-time player he is turning out to be. He didn’t match James shot for shot and struggled defending him, but did prevent him from scoring on the final 2 minutes and 43 seconds. On the other end, George was 6-of-7 from the field with 16 points when James was guarding him. The Pacers have loads of confidence, and more than enough options to exhaust on offense against a Miami Heat defense that’s hard to solve, but is struggling keeping up with the physical advantage the Pacers have.
This series is less about home & away, more about making the right adjustments. The Pacers did an excellent job, including on Chris Andersen, of keeping Miami’s fringe players from contributing, while even one third of their big three (Dwyane Wade) is struggling to contribute the way the Heat need him to be. As long as Hibbert doesn’t break down and George Hill keeps up making the right decisions, the Pacers’ discipline on defense might be enough to keep the edge in the series on their side.