After their dominating win in Game 3, it appears the real Miami Heat are now fully awake.
They buckled down and sent the bigger, stronger LeBron James into the post against the game but physically weaker Paul George. They concentrated on better shot selection and took away the Pacers' fast break with fewer turnovers.
“When we set our defense,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said, “we're a pretty good defensive team.”
So the Pacers have a major chore ahead of them in Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
With the Heat up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, a second loss in Indy would be all but devastating to the Pacers' chances.
But can the Pacers beat the Heat when Miami is clicking at both ends of the court? All five Miami starters scored in double figures in the 114-96 win on Sunday, including a major boost from Udonis Haslem (17 points).
“We got the shots that we wanted, that we needed,” Wade said. “We moved the ball around. We got a lot of post-ups, a lot of different things. So I think even when they made their run, we continued to work the game that worked for us in the beginning. Most importantly, it was all about the defensive end, not turning the ball over, so they can see all five of us on the other end of the court.”
The Pacers must get a better offensive performance out of George, who was 3-of-10 shooting and finished with 13 points. He had eight assist, but also five turnovers.
“They really just sagged the paint,” George said. “That's the reason I was able to get assists and find guys, because they really sagged the paint. It's just another level for me to grow from, watch the tape, and see where I can be productive.”
The Heat regained home-court advantage in the series with the win. Games 5 and 7 (if needed) will be in Miami.
Pacers coach Frank Vogel, who was criticized after Game 1 because he didn't have 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert on the floor late in the game, might have felt some bittersweet vindication in Game 3.
Miami attacked Indiana's defense with the type of perimeter game that makes it tough on Hibbert to ease into the role of rim protector. Haslem and Chris Bosh both hit a number of midrange to three-point jump shots as the Heat built a 70-56 halftime lead.
“That's what Miami does, they space you out,” Vogel said. “They make it difficult to have a rim protector in the game at all times. They challenge you to keep a guy at the rim and still make them close out to an 18-foot jump shooter. We have to account for that.”
The Pacers might have to consider putting the stronger David West on James to counter the post-up moves, but West is not as quick against the drive.
Actually, guarding James is a problem that's probably not going to be solved by the Pacers or any team anytime soon.
The Heat were more focused on both ends of the court in Game 3.
“We're a team that just bounces back from adversity,” James said. “We love the fact that they took home court away from us, and now 'Let's see what we're made of.' I think we know what we're made of, as well.”