When things go right for the Miami Heat, it's easy to see why they're the overwhelming favorites for the NBA Championship. They came out firing on all cylinders and, using a franchise record 70 point first half, led their way to a Game 3 win over the Indiana Pacers. The Indiana defense was non-existent for a great majority of this game, as LeBron James did a majority of his damage posting up on Paul George. It will be a major point of discussion heading into Game 4, but in the meantime, it was something the Pacers couldn't account for.
But while James was doing his thing, the patience of the Miami offense was rewarded with good looks that never seemed to go astray. Udonis Haslem in particular was having an out of body experience, shooting 8-9 for 17 points. In fact, it seemed as if all of Miami's starters were all on the same cloud, with, ironically enough, James being the only Miami start under 50% shooting despite dominating the Pacers inside all night. Add in another perfect shooting night for Chris Andersen and a few striker threes from Ray Allen and Shane Battier and it was a recipe for disaster for the Pacers.
Indiana can't afford to let the Miami starters outplay them, and that's exactly what happened tonight. All five Heat starters reached double figures, Mario Chalmers the low man with 14(!) on 4-6(!) shooting. Miami went into the break shooting 63%, and while the Pacers did a better job, the 70 point first half meant that even a respectable 44 point defense was going to result in Miami winning the game 114-96. This kind of game was to be expected at some point, the Pacers simply need to regroup, get back to what they do, and hope Miami doesn't play one of the best halves they've ever played.
Unfortunately, while you can take your chances with someone like Haslem not shooting, again, 8-9(!) from the floor and scoring, again, 17(!), there doesn't appear to be a whole lot the Pacers can do if James is hell bent on living in the paint. Paul George simply isn't strong enough to contain him and a heavy dose of Sam Young is always a bit of a crap shoot. The obvious answer would be to double James, but that gives Miami the exact advantage they're looking for and can take advantage of as they did tonight, with open shooters taking good looks and drilling each and every single one of them until the end of time.
Miami's shooting is one thing, but their patience on offense meant a ridiculously low number of turnovers, committing just five. In addition, they were able to reverse their poor free throw shooting from the first two games, hitting 24 of 28, including 20 of their first 21. In no way were the Pacers prepared for a focused Miami offense, and it will require a lot of adjustments from Frank Vogel and his staff. Fortunately, one game does not create a trend, but it does give Miami a decided advantage if the Pacers can't get stops and can't create turnovers.
Roy Hibbert had a nice night of 20 points and 17 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end, but the Pacers didn't seem able to get them the ball as effectively tonight, and Hibbert himself wasn't terribly effective from the floor, shooting just 4-12, needing a 12-15 night from the line to make up a bulk of his points. David West was one of two Pacers starters to reach 50% shooting (a stark contrast against Miami's starting five), scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
George Hill was active with the ball tonight, scoring 19, but didn't offer much else, getting pushed around by Chalmers as the game wore on late. Paul George was a non-factor on the offensive end, appearing beat up by James on the other end, going 3-10 from the field for 13 points. He did have eight assists though. Lance Stephenson had just seven on 2-10 shooting, both makes from distance. Stephenson's night was a curious one. While he remained active, he could not finish around the rim, a frustrating night given his usual abilities around the basket.
As longtime Cornrows member Gwen pointed out at the end of the game, the car at the Indianapolis 500 to go out first was the one with the Indiana Pacers logo on it. It sure seemed like the same thing happened tonight, as the Pacers were put into the wall by Miami's high speed offense and couldn't get the repairs in time to make a race of it. Even in the third quarter when the Pacers had a nice run early, Miami responded and managed to win the quarter, crushing any hopes of a Pacers comeback. It didn't help the Pacers were caught by Miami's habitual flopping towards the end of the third quarter, with Miami seeming to go down way too easily play after play.
Maybe that's just sour grapes, but as Reggie Miller pointed out saying if you're good enough to sell it and the refs are dumb enough to buy it, you deserve the call. It certainly did Indiana no favors, but it certainly wasn't the only thing wrong with the game tonight from Indiana's perspective. Things will have to get turned around in a hurry for Tuesday night's Game 4. It's bad enough the Pacers game up home court advantage as quickly as they got it on their side, but they can't win this series if they fall behind 1-3 heading back to Miami. The growth of the Pacers will be put to its biggest test with the most important game of Indiana's season coming up.