As most probably have already heard and likely expected, Paul George, barring any unforeseen setbacks, has been cleared by the Pacers' training staff and the NBA's Director of Concussion Management to return to normal basketball activity after suffering from a concussion in Game 2. This news is no doubt a sigh of relief for Pacers' fans given his impact on both sides of the ball throughout this series:
Pacers have outscored opponents by 64 pts with Paul George on court in playoffs... and been outscored by 27 pts with him off court— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 23, 2014
Nevertheless, with PG's health status and availability for Game 3 no longer dominating the headlines, let's use this as an opportunity to take a look at five important trends from the ECF thus far:
1. Bench (Non)-Production:
No, this is not a recording from the 2013 postseason. The Pacers' bench, as a unit, is still failing to contribute quality minutes. After desperately trying to retool the bench for the stretch-run of the season, it is somewhat maddening, to say the least, to be forced to watch the team's starters all log exceedingly high minutes in order to get a win. In Game 2, Paul George, Roy Hibbert, and Lance Stephenson all racked-up 40+ minutes of playing time (West logged 39 min.). Meanwhile, the bench player with the highest minute total was C.J. Watson with just 13 minutes of game action. For a more in-depth synopsis of exactly what the bench brought to the table in Game 2, take a look at this excerpt from Bill Simmons' mailbag over at Grantland:
You know what's really helping Miami? Indy's decrepit bench, which chop-blocked the Pacers in Game 2 thanks to Luis Scola (absolutely atrocious), Evan Turner (DNP), Chris Copeland (DNP), C.J. Watson (0-for-4) and Ian Mahinmi (just six shaky minutes). Only Rasual Butler came through (two 3s), and he was washed-up three years ago - after Butler hit his second 3, we had to restrain Jalen from slipping on his old no. 5 Pacers jersey and sitting on Indy's bench to see if Frank Vogel would have put him in next.
Perhaps it is system. Maybe it is lack of minutes. It might have something to do with playing rotations. Whatever the rationale, the bench, even with new faces as Simmons later points out, is still failing to consistently produce.
According to basketball reference's playoffs play-by-play data, the Pacers' most utilized bench players are all recording negative on-court plus/minuses in the postseason per 100 possessions (Evan Turner -18.1, Luis Scola -11.9, Ian Mahinmi -7.2, and C.J. Watson -4.8). Add these alarming findings to the fact that Luis Scola is shooting just 37.5% from 3-10 feet and 28.6% from 10-16 feet, Evan Turner is shooting 26.3% from 3-10 feet, and Ian Mahinmi is shooting 47.4% from 0-3 feet, and you have a recipe for second unit disaster. The crew over at 8 points, 9 seconds goes into greater detail on some of Scola's recent struggles here.
Notably, in extremely limited minutes/sample size, the only non-starters to record a positive on-court plus/minus per 100 possessions in the postseason are Chris Copeland (+14.2) and Rasual Butler (+3.4).
To their credit, several members of the bench have contributed key minutes for the team in limited stretches. For instance, think back to when Scola's hot shooting helped keep the Pacers alive in Game 2 of the Pacers-Hawks series. That being said, having already played five more entire games than their current opponent in the 2014 postseason, the Pacers' starters are going to need their reserves to contribute quality minutes if they want to advance to the NBA Finals.
Then again, the bench combined for a measly 9 points and Paul George and David West shot a combined 9-of-32 from the field in Game 2, and the Heat only walked away with a four point victory. Even so, it is doubtful that this formula, which came up short at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, would be capable of producing a "W" at American Airlines Arena.
2. Miami's ever-changing line-ups:
When each team's starting line-ups were revealed prior to the start of the first game of this series, it came as quite the surprise that Miami's Erik Spoelstra chose to prioritize floor spacing (Shane Battier) over size (Udonis Haslem/Chris Andersen). Especially since, according to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh's Big Number, Birdman's plus/minus of +28 in the ECF is the highest of any player on the Miami Heat's roster. The latest edition of the Big Number also points out that the Bosh-Birdman frontline outscored opponents by 13 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. Given that Haberstroh adds on that Andersen is shooting 63% from the field per 36 minutes, grabbing a team high 11.6 rebounds per 36 minutes, and was +25 in Game 2, presupposing that Spoelstra - ever the line-up tinkerer - will possibly chose to make some adjustments for Game 3 does not seem like much of a long-shot. As we all now know, the Battier experiment was short-lived after Roy Hibbert and David West combined for 38 points and the Heat shot just 26.1% from three in Game 1.
3. Wade's fourth quarter dominance:
Miami is known for its on/off switch, but Dwyane Wade has taken that notion to the next level and then some during the fourth periods of this year's edition of the ECF. As the Pacers (with Paul George suffering from a concussion and David West, at the very least, irritated by a scratched eye) faltered down the stretch of Game 2, LeBron James and his sidekick kicked their games up an extra notch, scoring 22 points in the final frame. More daunting is the notion that, according to ESPN stats and info, Dwyane Wade is 11-of-12 in the fourth quarter of this series versus the Pacers. With Wade putting in time and a half at winning time, the Pacers must value every possession against the Heat in Miami if they want to return to Indianapolis with at least a split on Wednesday.
4. Avoiding back-to-back losses:
If anything about the Pacers can accurately be described as consistent during the 2014 playoffs, it would have to be their resiliency:
Yes, the Blue and Gold have flat out refused to make anything easy for themselves this postseason, but maybe they are better off this way - playing the role of the hunter instead of the hunted, counted out, or forced to answer with their back against the wall.
Can they do it again, this time in Miami?
Only time will tell, but never underestimate the motivating power of doubt with this Pacers' team.
5. Pacers try to continue playing the role of road warriors:
Thus far in the 2014 post-season, the Pacers, just 21-20 in their role as the visitor during the regular season, have unexpectedly won 5 straight road games. Meanwhile, the Heat, through the first two rounds of the playoffs, are undefeated at home, and, according to ESPN Stats and Info, are 6-1 at American Airlines Arena against the Indiana Pacers over the last two seasons, which means that something has to give when the series shifts to Miami Saturday evening. Notably, a sixth straight road victory for the Blue and Gold this post-season would put the Pacers in unique company:
Pacers have won 5 straight road gms. Only 4 teams in NBA history won 6+ straight road gms in single postseason -- and all 4 won the title— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2014
For more on Paul George's health status, the Pacers' bench struggles, and Game 3, check out the links: