Although NBA fans may have suffered from basketball withdrawal during the lengthy interim period between Game 2 and Game 3 of the ECF, the extended break from game play seemed like it was coming at exactly the right time for the Indiana Pacers. First and foremost, the time off gave Paul George ample enough time to clear the league's concussion protocol in time for Saturday's game, something that would have been impossible had the contest taken place on Thursday when he was limited to non-contact work only.
The benefits of rest versus the pitfalls of rust is perennially one of the great debates each year during the NBA playoffs, but for the 2014 Indiana Pacers the high probability of fatigue for the Iron 5 far outweigh any concerns regarding them somehow being out of practice.
Like Roy Hibbert told the Indy Star, "We haven't had three days off since the All-Star break."
On the season, Indiana's starting line-up logged 1469.1 minutes of game time, the most of any five-man unit in the NBA. During the playoffs, the Pacers have played five more entire games than the Miami Heat. Comparatively in Game 2, three of the Pacers' starters racked-up 40+ minutes of game action (David West played 39 min.), whereas LeBron James was the only member of the Heat to break the 40 minute mark.
The days off also had the potential to serve an additional purpose beyond just getting some quality rest and relaxation. The lengthy break provided the Pacers' coaching staff added time to game plan against Miami's propensity to tinker with their playing rotation (i.e. Udonis Haslem being inserted into the starting line-up, Chris Andersen's extended play time, or Norris Cole guarding Lance Stephenson).
All season long the Pacers were at their best with at least one day of rest. With 3+ days of rest, they were 5-0.
Now, with Game 3 in the record books, they are 5-1.
In the first half, rest looked like it actually may have done the Pacers' bodies some good as they built up a 15-point first half lead. From there on out, a strange combination of relaxed play, mental fatigue, and perhaps even frustration wore on the Indiana Pacers.
They turned the ball over eight reckless times in the second quarter squandering their sizable lead. LeBron James seemed to make it his personal mission to get under the skin of Lance Stephenson. Paul George and George Hill faced questionable foul trouble all night, logging just 52 combined minutes in the contest (the duo played 74 minutes in Game 2). Of course, expecting anything other than a tight whistle in South Beach borders somewhere between a fool's errand and dark humor:
Paul George, watching his tongue: "It’s hard 2 make a couple shots & get sent into the bench, especially when – I’m not gong to get n2 it."— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) May 25, 2014
George was commenting about his foul situation. He played the fewest minutes he has all postseason (32:14) b/c of 4 fouls.— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) May 25, 2014
Add all of these issues to the fact that LeBron and Wade went 16-of-22 (72.7%) over the final 30 minutes, and you have a recipe for a winnable game on the road gone terribly wrong.
In the end, the Pacers lost a playoff game by double-figures that they, at one time, lead themselves by double-figures.
Dropping Game 3, the Pacers have now lost two straight games for the first time this postseason and Miami remains undefeated at American Airlines Arena. Once again, with their backs against the wall, the Pacers will have to dig deep if they want to return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse with the split heading into Game 5.
On a positive note, the one thing that has been consistent for the Pacers this postseason is exactly what Frank Vogel noted following the game, they have "a ton" of resiliency.
After all, lengthening this series to a potential Game 7 in Indianapolis really still seems like the only fitting ending to this series.
For more on the Pacers' performance in Game 3, check out the links: