Dissecting the Pacers’ Loss in Miami
In Miami for the only time during the regular-season, the Pacers fell for the second time in three games. The Heat (47-14) sit atop the Eastern Conference standings and a have 8.5 game lead on second place New York. They outscored the Pacers 30-9 from the final 2:42 of the first half through the first six minutes of the third quarter. Their lead was as large as 23, as they rolled to an NBA season’s-best 18th-straight win.
Here’s the key takeaways from the Pacers’ 105-91 loss:
Miami’s mission was evident from the beginning on Sunday. Once they slid off their shooting shirts and ripped off the breakaways, it was on. There would be no usual pregame hugs and handshakes. There would be no messing around, as the Heat had a clear focus — win. The Pacers had won both previous meetings by double digits. In the last one, which is actually the Heat’s last loss (back on Feb. 1), the most telling image came in the final minutes, as the Heat players stood and watched a Pacers’ steal and layup.
Ahead of Sunday’s game, LeBron James was asked whether the Pacers had taken over the role as their biggest rival in the East. He refused (and probably wisely so). “I would say it’s Boston,” he said.
Failing to Compete
The spine of the Pacers, David West, vocalized his opinion about their performance: “We didn’t compete from the opening tip. I just don’t think we brought enough competitive fire.
“That’s probably the worst defensive game we played all year,” West continued. “[They] were just too comfortable and they took away our space. [There was] just no fire in us today.”
Nothing more needs to be added. West said it all.
Defensive matchups disrupted Pacers
From the tip, the Heat defended the Pacers differently than in their last two meetings. Dwyane Wade, not James, guarded Paul George. That put James on Stephenson, affording him more opportunities to roam and, to use football terms, “play strong safety.”
“I think the biggest thing is he wanted me engaged in the game early and very aggressive, Wade said. “Obviously, Paul is becoming a very great young player in this league and it is a challenge you have to take.”
George had a sub-par game, finishing with only 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting. He also turned the ball over a game-high five times. Lance Stephenson, who had James on him, contributed little in his 33 minutes; he missed four of his five shots and had six points.
James suggested the switch at morning shootaround and it worked out well for the defending champs.
“We have a really good backline on defense, especially when me and D-Wade are able to play strong safety and free safety,” said the three-time MVP. “We just bait guys and bigs into throwing passes across court.”
The Pacers’ inside game produced very little. They finished with just 24 points in the paint, which tied for their second-lowest output in a game this season. David West’s 24 points and Roy Hibbert’s 16 did lead the team, but many of those points, especially West’s, came from mid-range jumpers and at the foul line.
As much as Indiana likes their bigs and want to play a physical brand of defense, the Heat got the best of them. The Pacers turned the ball over 18 times, leading to 27 points for the Heat. And they nearly made as many 3-pointers (10) as field goals in the post (12), and that can’t happen.
Non-’big three’ Contributions
It’s one thing to get beat by the Heat’s All-Star trio of James, Wade, and Chris Bosh, which account for over 63 percent of their scoring. Should another player or two step up, the odds are stacked against you. Mario Chalmers scored 11 of his 26 points in the first quarter and pulled down seven rebounds, both game-highs. For the Pacers to win, neither can happen. Ray Allen, who was scoreless in the first two meetings, added 11 points off the bench.
Keep in mind, LeBron James finished with a season-low 13 points and the Heat won decisively.
The Pacers kept their previous 11 opponents under 100 points. They also held the Heat to 77 and 89 points, respectively, in their first two meetings.
“We executed at a high pace today,” James said of Miami’s offense. “The ball was moving and everyone felt comfortable and in rhythm in offense. It was showing how effectively we were moving the ball in the half-court.”
Eye on Augustin
After reaching double figures in six of the first 61 games, backup point guard D.J. Augustin has scored 14 points in each of the last two games. He’s made 9-of-17 field goals, and recorded 10 assists to three turnovers in the pair of games.
Next up: the Pacers host Minnesota Wednesday and the Lakers on Friday — both at 7 PM EST.