The Eastern Conference Finals is a perfect example of just how much creative and good coaching makes a difference, and what playoff basketball is all about – adjustments, between and in games. The Miami Heat started out in a disastrous way, but the right modification from Erik Spoelstra allowed LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to take over the game, while the Indiana Pacers couldn’t react to the changes with their one way style of basketball, losing 99-87 and falling to a 2-1 deficit in the series.
It couldn’t have been a worst start for the Heat who played slow basketball and fell into the same mistakes of previous games: Having only Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem on David West and Roy Hibbert, which allowed the Pacers to take a 19-5 lead and later on 37-22 in the second quarter. Just like in previous games, the Heat responded to that slow start with changes that made their defense work, only they ran away with the game in the second half as the Pacers once again folded when their first trick was called out.
Roy Hibbert wastes all of his energy in the first quarter, scoring 10 points and only six in the following three periods. David West was the same, and remains the one player that seems to make the difference for the Pacers. He scored 13 points, but the moment Rashard Lewis took over for Chris Bosh in the first half was the moment the Miami Heat took control of this game. Their defense became more aggressive and quick, resulting in five consecutive turnovers from the Pacers. As good as their transition defense is, at some point all those mistakes catch up with you.
So after dominating for most of the first half, they went down to the break leading only by four (42-38). That was the sign of the momentum finally shifting, as the Miami Heat turned up for the second half with some excellent basketball from James and Wade, resulting in very impressive shooting. Suddenly, even small ball, which included James, Wade, Bosh, Ray Allen and Norris Cole, was working, as that lineup scored 23 points in eight minutes while shooting 56.3% from the field.
James led the heat with 26 points, 7 assists and 4 steals. Finally, he found a way to get to the line, making 7-of-9. Dwyane Wade kept cutting along with James to the basket, which resulted in easy baskets over Roy Hibbert, and slowly taking away that stumbling block the Pacers had working in their favor under the basket. Ray Allen got hot, finishing with 16 points, including 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. The Heat got transition points which the Pacers didn’t (16-to-6) and Wade scored 23 points in another performance that probably made Lance Stephenson think twice about opening his big mouth.
Thought we competed pretty well, came out of the gates really strong, got off to a good start and then didn’t manage our foul trouble well and didn’t manage picking up their defensive intensity well. I think we need to stick to what we do. We got away from ourselves. We tried to make some stuff on the fly, which is not us.
That might be the problem for the Pacers – in game 3 and in the series: They have just one thing that works, and the moment they’re forced to move away from it or the Heat find the formula that responds well to it, it becomes very difficult for them to get back on track. Their defense isn’t impregnable, their offense isn’t getting something special from one player and Roy Hibbert struggles having two good halves.
There’s still plenty of basketball left to be played. Home court advantage can go back to the Pacers by winning in game 4, as they concede consecutive losses for the first time in this postseason. But the Miami Heat didn’t just show brains from their players and their head coach as they came back from a big hole in the first half. They showed once again that this team rarely breaks down unless it’s truly over in the fourth quarter, and despite being older and slower than before, it doesn’t make them any less dangerous with the season on the line.