When the Pacers busted out a 107-96 victory in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the sports world had no choice but to raise its collective eyebrow and take notice. Sure, the win was at home and Frank Vogel’s squad is the number one seed, but following Indiana’s roller-coaster-ride regular season and struggles to dispatch of Atlanta and Washington, there’s no question that Indiana is the big-time underdog in this one.
The decisive win gave us hope that this much-anticipated rematch might live up to the expectations we’d built all season long.
And then, just like that, Miami won two straight and has the chance to drive the dagger home on Monday night at American Airlines Arena.
It’s not just that the Pacers lost the third game of the series and now find themselves down two games to one; it’s how they lost that’s disconcerting.
In like a lion and out like a lamb.
Forget that LeBron James continues to consistently step up his game in the post-season (26pts, 5reb, 7ast, 4stl in Game 3). Forget that Ray Allen rained fire off the bench with four 3-pointers in the final period and 16 total points in the second half. Forget that Dwyane Waded added 23 and that at one point the Heat nailed eight straight baskets.
Forget all that stuff. The defending champs are gonna do what they’re gonna do.
I’m worried about Indiana.
I’m worried about a Pacers team that came roaring out of the gates to a commanding 15-point lead early on in the ball game, only to slowly watch their advantage piddle away as they were outscored 77-50 the rest of the way and lost by double digits.
Indiana wilted under the pressure of Miami’s defense, and for the Pacers to win; it’s got to be the other way around.
Indiana’s played inconsistent ball all season long, and they’ve got away with it due to their suffocating defense. But unless they can figure out a way to string together four solid quarters of effort each and every night, this rematch could swiftly turn from dream into dud.
Lance Stephenson versus King James.
It must be a real pain in the arse being an NBA player. Those are some big friggin’ shoes to be sticking in your mouth when experiencing verbal diarrhea at a post-game press conference.
Lance Stephenson supposed after the loss that he’d gotten into LeBron James’ head. He offered up for evidence the fact that he was able to lure the King into talking trash on Saturday night. (Generally the Heat’s star forward opts for an actions-over-words approach.)
James pretty much laughed off the ridiculous supposition. “I’m not much of a talker,” he said. “I don’t ever start it but I can get involved in it and still keep my head. Winning the game is more important. I understand what the main goal is.”
The two share some bad blood as Stephenson was once forced to directly apologize to James for making a choke sign to him off of the Pacers’ bench after a missed free-throw. While Lance has become a much bigger part of Indiana’s rotation since the incident took place, it’s still more than a bit naïve to think you’re winning mind games against the best player in the NBA.
When talking about the Game 3 loss, Lance Stephenson added, “When they made a run we never responded.” Hmm … yeah … that’s one way to put it.
Coach Frank Vogel says that his team has a ton of resiliency left in the tank.
I can’t help but think that Miami’s come-from-behind clobbering on Saturday night must have broken the Pacers’ spirit … at least a little bit. Naturally, Indiana’s coach argues the opposite.
Vogel points out that his team is only down (2-1) and that they faced the exact same deficit against the Hawks and the Bullets in rounds one and two. But surely he’s got to recognize that neither Atlanta nor Washington is in the same league as the Miami Heat.
That being said, a win on Monday will silence all of the critics … at least temporarily.
And to get that win they’ll need to …
The Pacers need to stick to their game plan and now allow the Heat to “impose their will” on them. David West, who had a decent outing in Game 3 (13pts) said that his team tried to make up too much on the fly. Indiana’s not a run-and-gun kind of team. They play tough defense, work the ball down low to Roy Hibbert, control the clock, and win by not allowing teams to execute their game plan.
At times this series the Pacers did all those things. But at other times they simply fell apart.
So, it’s not really rocket science to put together a strategy to break down the Heat; it’s more so finding a way to stay consistent for 60 minutes and to throw up a road block when Miami starts to go on a run.
Unfortunately, the Indiana Pacers are quite possibly the most inconsistent number one seed in the history of the NBA. I just don’t know if they have what it takes to win three out of the remaining four games.
Getting two more days of rest for Paul George should help out, but even if he’s able to improve upon his sub-par 5 of 13 shooting from Game 3 it’s going to be an uphill battle if the Pacers hope to end this series with a different result than they got last year.
Speaking of injuries … Serge Ibaka has been upgraded to day-to-day.
Serge Ibaka made it well known that he planned on playing through the pain should doctors release him for full-contact. While the Thunder generally play it safe when it comes to re-injuring their players, it sounds like there’s a good chance OKC’s starting center will get his wish, perhaps as early as Game 3.
That being said, guts and competitiveness don’t always equate to legitimate contribution on the court. Durant and Westbrook will need to carry the team and eke out at least one win before Ibaka’s presence would be a true game changer.
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