Game 3 turned into a test for the Indiana Pacers, and they proved much as they have in the past, that they haven't figured out how to deal with Miami's active defense and still stay locked in well enough to win. Miami turned things up in the second quarter defensively, forcing eight second quarter turnovers from the Pacers, and from that point, Indiana was left to scramble, trying to settle themselves into the game that continued to slip from their grasp.
Though they did enough on offense to stay in the game into the fourth quarter, they were collapsing defensively as the Heat ran roughshod, outscoring the Pacers 61-45 in the second half. Miami shot 59.5% in the second half, cooling off from near 70% in the game's final stretch, but nevertheless, there was nothing for the Pacers were capable of doing when the Heat were scoring on every single possession.
Indiana jumped out well ahead of the Heat, using a 17-4 run to open the game to build a double figure lead, but turnovers allowed Miami to trim the lead at the end of the quarter to seven. In the second quarter, the Pacers once again were able to push the game into double figures thanks to big efforts from Luis Scola and Rasual Butler, but foul trouble caught up with Indiana when George Hill and Paul George each picked up their third fouls.
Miami's defense forced five straight turnovers to cut the lead in half, eventually pushing the Indiana lead to just four at the break. Hill came out attacking in the second half, scoring five to push Indiana's lead to seven in the face of a Dwyane Wade onslaught, but a bad charge call against Udonis Haslem early in the quarter would hamper Hill with his fourth foul, sending him to the bench, as Miami took their first lead on an ensuing 8-0 run.
A pair of trips to the line for Paul George put Indiana back in the lead, but his fourth foul pushed him to the bench, with Miami closing strong to finish the third. Back to back Wade threes put Miami ahead by 10, but George picked up his game offensively scoring eight of Indiana's first 10 points of the quarter to pull Indiana within two at 76-74. But the common trend of was Indiana's inability to get stops.
The Heat would go on to score on seven of their next eight possessions, including three Ray Allen three pointers, to help put the game on ice for the Heat, as they pushed their lead to 11. Allen hit a fourth three to sink in the dagger as the Heat would go onto win 99-87, taking a 2-1 series lead in Game 3. The Heat shot 10-18 from three point range, including three in corner from Allen, shooting 54.4% for the game.
It was fitting that in a game the Pacers finally got a good enough bench effort, they'd get outclassed by Allen, Norris Cole, and Rashard Lewis. Allen and Cole had 25 to outscore Indiana's bench effort of 23, but it was Lewis who was surprisingly stout defensively against David West, as the Pacers failed to exploit what would be expected to be a strong advantage.
West was a big key for Indiana's success early, but scored just four points in the second half, getting just four shots, zero trips to the line, and generally having no impact in the second half. Lack of impact wasn't scarce for the Pacers in the second half. For a team that relies so heavily on their starting lineup, West disappearing did Indiana absolutely no good with Paul George and George Hill pinned to the bench, Lance Stephenson increasingly gassed, and Roy Hibbert having just six points on 3-7 in the second half.
The George and Hill foul trouble really did a number on the Pacers even though they were able to stay right with the Heat in the third quarter. George was never able to find a rhythm, scoring just six points through the first three quarters. He did offer up a big scoring fourth quarter with 11 points to bring his total to 17 for the night, but missed free throws (6-10) and awful Indiana defense killed any opportunities for it to matter.
Indiana's bench offered some rare highlights in the first half, with Luis Scola showcasing his once-thought-lost post game, going for eight points. Rasual Butler offered up a pair of threes, but a bad foul on Allen did him no favors. C.J. Watson also had a pair of threes. Evan Turner made a brief appearance thanks to George's foul trouble, and proceeded to allow the Heat to cap off their first half run.
The three point shooting of the Heat also did Indiana no favors, but Indiana deserved it with their poor defense at the three point line. Indiana has continued to pay for leaving shooters open in the corners, Miami hit four more tonight, including three from Ray Allen. Indiana has also struggled mightily in closing quarters strong against the Heat. Miami outscored Indiana 37-10 in late/second half of quarters situations in the first three tonight.
Miami's late runs not only cut into two double digit Indiana leads, but put them ahead by seven heading into the final period. It's an inexcusable collapse Indiana has no chance of surviving when they not only have to contend with poor defensive closeouts to shooters and quarters, but also when they don't even have the best three or four (or five?) players on the floor.
Indiana's success in Game 1 was largely thanks to George and Stephenson outplaying James and Wade, but since the beginning of the fourth quarter, there's been no doubt who the two best players in the series are, with Wade and James continuing to shoot astronomically. Even despite this, they're still being given their sweet spots far too easily. Neither George or Stephenson did a good enough job preventing them from getting comfortable, leading to a combined 18-30 shooting night from them for 49 points.
The biggest question heading into this series should've been how Indiana would be able to deal with Miami's swarming and heavily attacking defense. They did poorly against it last year, and did poorly against it in the regular season finale between the two teams. Nothing seems to have changed, and it's going to make things very difficult for the Pacers moving forward in this series if they're unable to adjust.
But just as bad as this loss feels, it's exactly where Miami sat the end of Game 1. A bad loss, to be sure, but win in Game 4, and they're right where they should be, with a tie series heading back to Indianapolis. Indiana has laid their fair share of eggs this postseason, but they've always responded well. That will make Game 4 on Monday a huge show for both teams.
Indiana can ill afford to fall behind 3-1 heading back to Indianapolis and Miami can't want a best of three series with two in Indianapolis. While the series won't be decided in Game 4, it'll be Indiana's turn for a must-win, much in the way it was Miami's in Game 2. Indiana has a lot to clean up, but simply staying strong on pick-and-rolls, not leaving shooters, and forcing tougher looks from James and Wade should help Indiana defensively, as they wait for big games from West and George.