The Indiana Pacers lost their focus; They lost their respect for the Miami Heat. On the way they lost Danny Granger, who’s trash talking and behavior only infuriated the Heat in the last two games, pushing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to play like the best duo in the NBA and on the planet.
But unlike Game 4, the Heat played like a team. LeBron James finished with 30 points and Dwyane Wade with 28, but everything that made the Heat great during the season worked from the first moment. Shane Battier was hitting open three pointers because the Heat moved the ball instead of settling for isolation. Their defense smothered the Pacers who had problems with their half court sets, giving up 22 points on the fast break while scoring only two themselves.
All the physicality and swag? They left in Indiana. While Granger was in the game, before hurting his ankle for the first time, the Pacers were in the game. Then he left, and LeBron-Wade turned it up a notch. Just like their basket at the second quarter buzzer. There was no way James was supposed to make it on time, but he did. It was like someone pressed an invisible fast forward button.
Granger tried to return in the third quarter, but after a somewhat dirty foul on LeBron James, karma hit him with a stick on his ankle again, and he was out. The Pacers were outscored by 23 points in the second half, which was finally an opportunity for Spoelstra to give James and Wade some combined rest. The garbage time only made things worse for the Pacers.
What changed between game 3 and games 4&5? There’s that magic word in playoff series – Adjustments. But with Miami, it’s mostly about the mindset of James and Wade, who just took the aggressiveness up to another level. Wade made three huge ‘and 1’ plays, not really noticing Roy Hibbert in the paint. The Heat drew Hibbert and West away from the basket and kept attacking from the weak side. On the other side, without a running game, the Pacers offense is much less effective.
The momentum has taken another shift. The Heat seemed lost without Chris Bosh. But some have suggested they just didn’t respect the Pacers enough, and were surprised in the losses, more than they were over-matched and outplayed. Once James and Wade infected everyone else with their tenacity and hustle, the Heat started looking like you’d expect them to against a talented but flawed team, still going through growing pains.
It’s also the story of how the Heat’s support players started giving more. Shane Battier and Joel Anthony didn’t suddenly become offensive juggernauts, but they’re not making mistakes on both ends of the floor. They’re creating plays and turnovers, and the rest is in the hands of the talented twosome. The Heat’s ball movement and off the ball movement simply created easy shots – They shot 61.4% from the field and 56.3% from beyond the arc.
George Hill was completely out of it for the entire game. That leaves it in the unpredictable hands of Leandro Barbosa, who gets up shots at an incredible rate, but hardly any of them were good or had anything to do with the flow of the game. The Pacers needed someone to calm and slow things down. There was no one out there to do it.
The Heat aren’t in the clear yet. Frank Vogel will make adjustments of his own. Udonis Haslem should miss at least one game for his flagrant foul on Tyler Hansbrough. But the pendulum has definitely been swung the other way. With James and Wade feeling confident in their teammates and in this mindset, the Pacers are just not good enough to take them out.