INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Pacers have spent the past two seasons worrying about the “Big 3” of the Miami Heat. In Saturday's 91-77 win in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, again, the Pacers were able to do that successfully, mostly due to Heat star LeBron James wasn't joined by his usual damaging partners of Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade, but by – to a much lesser extent - role players Mario Chalmers (10 points) and Norris Cole (nine points).
The Indiana defense neutralized Bosh (five points, four rebounds) and Wade (10 points, one assist), and made James (29 points, seven rebounds and six assists) have to try and lift his team single-handedly, as he often has done in this series.
“I got to find ways to get (Bosh and Wade) comfortable in areas where they can be aggressive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And that will be my focus the next 48 hours.”
Indiana will travel to Miami on Monday at 8:30 p.m. (TNT) for the decisive Game 7.
Bosh (ankle) and Wade (knee) have been hampered all series by not being totally healthy, but neither was willing to use that excuse following the Game 6 defeat, which tied the series at three wins apiece.
The two All-Stars combined to connect on just four of 19 shots on Saturday, but both Spoelstra and James are confident the two will be much more effective on Monday.
“We can state the obvious,” James said. “They are both struggling. Chris is struggling with his shot (41 percent shooting in the series), and him hurting his ankle didn't help. I think he will find it. He will find it.”
Wade has seen his shooting percentage lower from 52 percent during the regular season to 44 percent against the Pacers. His scoring average has plummeted to 14.5 points per game from over 21 during the regular season.
“Now Game 7,” Spoelstra explained, “adversity and backs against the wall, I know those two men's character. This is when they come up big in these moments.”
Going and getting it
It's been no secret to Indiana's success that their length – and subsequent rebounding domination – has been critical to it taking the defending World Champions to the brink of elimination, and Saturday was no different.
The Pacers on average have outrebounded Miami by 10 (51 to 41 per game) throughout this series, but on Saturday, they took it to a whole new level – particularly in the second half.
The Pacers held just a 27-23 advantage on the glass at halftime, but finished with a 53-33 (Miami grabbed just 10 boards in the final half) margin.
“It's a challenge with them,” Spoelstra said. “They're so big, and if you don't get to them early with your speed and quickness, that size will get to you.”
Indiana placed three players in double figures in rebounding, as David West (14), Roy Hibbert (11) and Lance Stephenson (12) were very active. Even the rail-thin Paul George (8 rebounds) was effective.
“It's a very fine line,” Spoelstra said. “With our defense, the way we pressure, sometimes that can leave you exposed in the paint.”
Hibbert takes offense – to his defense
Hibbert has arguably been the most effective Pacer in this series. He totaled 24 points and 11 rebounds in Saturday's victory, which really wasn't surprising to those that have followed the series.
“Roy is playing the best basketball of his career right now,” Indiana Pacer coach Frank Vogel said. “He's leading us, and he's a big reason why we are where we are.”
Hibbert is averaging a team-best 22.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in the series, but he is more proud of his defense. Despite ranking 10th this season in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting, Hibbert has confidence in his ability at that end of the floor.
”You know what, because y'all (expletive) don't watch is play throughout the year, to tell you the truth,” Hibbert said of the reason behind his lack of respect. “That's fine. I'm going to be real with you, and I don't care if I get fined. We're not on TV all of the time. Reporters are the ones that are voting. It is what it is.”
Hibbert helped hold the Heat to just 22 points in the paint on Saturday, as Haslem (zero points), Bosh (five points), and Joel Anthony (two points) each struggled offensively.
“If I don't make the (Defensive Player of the Year), that's fine,” Hibbert said. “I'm still going to do what I have to do.”