There’s a good chance Paul George is the best second half player in the NBA this season, but that might have been a fact not worth mentioning if LeBron James would have stayed on the Indiana Pacers star even after getting his third foul. The Miami Heat and their MVP were dominating up to that point, but lost the game the moment they allowed George to face inferoir defenders in Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen.
When James picked up his third personal foul early in the third quarter, the Miami Heat were leading by six points, and Paul George had scored only 2 without a single field goal. The moment the Heat made the switch, with Ray Allen and Dwyane Wade having a go at the Pacers’ best player, everything changed. The Pacers outscored the Heat by 12 points from that moment, as George scored 15 points with 4-of-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. The Heat’s only way of really bothering the Pacers while Roy Hibbert was having a big game (24 points, 10-of-15 from the field) went the moment Spoelstra was afraid of James picking up a fourth foul.
Despite forcing 21 turnovers on the Pacers, the Heat were stuck in a half court game against the long arms and quick feet of the Pacers players. The ball movement was slow, and the Heat shot a very poor 42.9% from the field and 19% from beyond the arc. Most of their game is about creating easy and open shots on the perimeter, avoiding having to get Roy Hibbert involved defensively. It worked well early on, but once the momentum shifted, the Heat struggled putting points on the board.
Rebounding wasn’t that much of an advantage for the Pacers. They did what the real “book” says to do. Quick ball movement that freed up players. Not just Hibbert, who did most of his damage early on before tiring, like he usually does, but also from David West scoring 17 points and Lance Stephenson having a good day with 12 points, but doing even better on the defensive end.
Should the Heat be worried? Not at all. In fact, it seemed like their players did everything possible before the game to make it seem like a loss right now means nothing, even if it does give the Pacers a three game lead atop the Eastern conference. Miami have lost four consecutive regular season games in Indiana; they lost there twice in the playoffs. It’s not going to change their confidence about winning the championship. It might only make the Pacers feel better about themselves, rebounding from that 24 points loss in Oklahoma City.
It’s hard to say the NBA regular season isn’t important, but there’s no doubt that one game doesn’t do much in terms of the full picture. Right now, the Pacers deserve the top spot and maybe even to be recognized as the favorites in the East. Paul George is playing great basketball and the team is doing great defensively. But building mountains of theories about who is best based on one regular season game which was pretty close sounds like a bit of a stretch knowing how different things are when the playoffs begin.