After a long break, the NBA playoffs continue and we pick the action back up with the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat playing in game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals with the series tied at 1-1, as the Paul George concussion story comes to an end; he will be playing, while the defending NBA champions might be considering beefing up in the paint.
The Heat won game 87-83 with some spectacular defense and nearly flawless offensive execution in the final quarter, especially from Dwyane Wade who has missed just one shot so far in both games in the fourth quarter. LeBron James isn’t playing superstar basketball for most of the evening, but like Wade, he took his game on both ends of the floor to a whole other level in game 2, shutting down George Hill in the Forward on Point Guard switch the Heat love to do and often works very well for them.
Despite the loss, the Pacers probably won’t be looking like their confidence is shaken. They’ve won five consecutive road games in the postseason, and have responded well, or at least with a win, to each of their previous five postseason losses, going 5-0 in the game after, with or without Roy Hibbert playing like a decent center. The problem is it requires around 40 minutes or more from all of their starters, which is hard to deliver all the time.
Eyes will be on Paul George as he bounces back from a concussion he sustained at the end of the previous game. He has been cleared by the league to play, and as every number involving a Pacers starter shows, the Pacers simply can’t afford to have any of their stars injured. They’re outscoring the Heat by 23 points when all of their starters are on the floor together (57 minutes out of 96). They’re being outscored by 16 when one of them is on the bench. The shift, no matter who goes out, is that huge, while the Heat always play with either Dwyane Wade or LeBron James on the floor.
The Heat didn’t explode as they claimed control of the series, but they played the kind of defense that hasn’t been too common from them this season. The switches and return to position was perfect, as the Pacers couldn’t get ball movement to free up shooters. The Heat trapped at the right time, and also got lucky enough with West and George missing the few open shots they did find from time to time.
The Heat might try something different in this game, and that’s the important thing. Adjustments shouldn’t be made only after losses. The Pacers have a system that works but won’t steer off of it. The Heat started playing with both Chris Andersen and Chris Bosh on the floor together to tremendous success. This means we might finally get to see Greg Oden in game 3, giving Miami another big body who can help them defend the rim and confuse the Pacers who are used to seeing one specific thing from the Heat.
The clichè points out that game 3 is always the most important of the series. It’s where teams take control and show which way the wind is blowing. It’s not entirely true, and there are examples from this postseason to prove the theory wrong, but in a sport that is obviously about generating momentum, the Miami Heat managed to ignore losing home court advantage through the regular season to snatch it right back. Now it’s up to them to show the same kind of defensive consistency we saw in game 2 to make sure that road win didn’t go to waste.