To some degree, LeBron James beating you on jumpers is something you can live with. James was the Miami Heat in the third quarter, single-handedly outscoring the Indiana Pacers 16-13. If that were all the Heat were getting, it would allow the Pacers to weather waves of Miami's defense and a 60% second half for the Heat, but when Udonis Haslem has another big game, finishing 8-9 on his favorite corner jumper, it becomes a little harder to live with.
The Pacers hit a rough patch offensively in the second half of the third quarter just as the Heat began to hum. Even still, the Pacers had some opportunities as the game made its way into the fourth quarter, but just couldn't stop with the awful mistakes to capitalize on whatever advantages they could salvage. The Pacers had a solid first half on both ends, limiting Miami's offense, but easy misses and turnovers early kind of foreshadowed the potential for disaster.
Miami adjusted out of the half, exploding offensively, hitting shots, getting into the paint, taking away rebounding, as the Pacers had a poorly timed stretch of ineptitude that eventually devolved into unforced turnovers, 18 on the night, leading to 22 Miami points. The Pacers not only gave up 22 extra points to Miami, but took away those same opportunities by simply throwing the ball out of bounds with guys not even reading the same book. It all came to a head at the close of the third quarter, but that's when the Pacers were completely taken out of their game. Miami has the ability to really turn things up defensively, but these stretches are short. When Indiana couldn't get stops on the other end to LeBron James doing things, well, it's not complicated.
This is the second time this series where the Pacers' starters have been beaten by Miami's, and tonight's was really about big efforts from the front court with no-shows coming from the back court. Indiana's starting front court accounted for 66 of Indiana's 79 points, but even the front court player's showings weren't without their own shortcomings. For the back court, George Hill was simply bad. Hill finished 0-4 with one point and three turnovers. Lance Stephenson at least had a minor excuse when he was saddled with two quick fouls in the game's opening minutes. If that's what took him out of tonight's game, that's one thing, but going 2-7, three turnovers of his own, and just four points and three rebounds certainly shows how far Stephenson is away from being a real difference maker in this league.
For those who were able to score, Paul George led the charge with 27, getting 11 rebounds and five assists, but turning it over five times, most of them poor, unforced turnovers. George had 15 in the first quarter, wrapped up 11-19 from the field, but it was those turnovers that really took away from an otherwise solid showcase in a big game. David West was just 7-16, "just" being the operative usage given the bunnies he missed early in the game. It kept Indiana from really exploding and while he came around to have 17 & 8, he just couldn't find the automatic shot when the team needed it.
Roy Hibbert joined George early as the only Pacers to actually score points until the 9:02 mark of the second quarter, wrapping up with 22, but was really kept off the glass in a tremendous way by the Heat. Hibbert had just six rebounds, two on the offensive end. The rebounding battle was largely a wash. Both teams grabbed six offensive boards, as Indiana edged the Heat 33-32. Miami doesn't have to win the rebounding battle, they just have to not get killed on the glass.
Officiating was very loose throughout the night, with only 30 fouls being whistled on the night. The Pacers had 19 of them, and while there wasn't an obvious advantage with whistles, the game did seem a little inconsistent at times. That inconsistency was on full display early in the second quarter when Chris Andersen leveled Tyler Hansbrough for no discernible reason, picking up a Flagrant 1 and a technical with no ejection. It was clearly a head hunting play (as was Shane Battier stepping on Hansbrough's ankle to force him out of the game in the fourth quarter), but somehow Hansbrough picked up a technical for standing up and talking back to Andersen.
Andersen not being ejected for going after Hansbrough and then looking to throw down is one of the game's greatest mysteries, a woeful display of "level-headed" officiating. It was quite similar to Nazr Mohammad's ejection after shoving James to the floor in the Eastern Semifinals, but the change in officiating decisions really sucks when one play is allowed to directly go after another with no actual repercussions seems like a rather odd decision. Flopping and fouls were a big topic heading into the game and in no way did the Heat have any room to complain with the officiating despite finding plenty of opportunities to.
Of course, officiating was far from being the deciding factor in tonight's game (though an obvious out of bounds play on LeBron James leading to an ensuing Ray Allen three crushed Indiana's growing momentum that the Pacers were likely going to ruin on their own). The Pacers simply weren't sharp enough when they had to be. The early misses to the second half turnovers really added up in a game that had no room for mistakes. The end result puts the Pacers on the brink of elimination for the first time this postseason.
The good news is that Indiana has proven to be a better team than they were in this same spot last year, heading home for Game 6, but it'll take a much better all around effort from the Pacers to force the all-important Game 7. What the Pacers have learned in this series is that Miami only needs to play great for one half to win a game, making all 48 minutes in Game 6 key. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade continued to be non-factors tonight, but one solid half from either could spell doom since Haslem shooting 8-9 surely can't happen three times in a series.
Game 6 will tip in Indianapolis on Saturday. It's go time for the Pacers and their 2012-13 season. It's time to show just how far this team has come by coming up big with the series on the line just as they did in Game 4. If it's the last home game of the season, the Pacers can't allow it to be a loss.