For the third time in four years, the Indiana Pacers find themselves on the brink of playoff elimination after just three games. The annual tradition of being the least competitive team in the postseason has this time benefited the Miami Heat, who move one game away from a second round berth.
On the Pacers side, a big third quarter allowed them to make it competitive after a laughable first half, but they proved incapable of competing in a close game down the stretch, allowing seven straight Miami points after Malcolm Brogdon had cut it to two with 2:21 remaining in the game.
Getting to that point wasn’t easy for Indiana. They were buried in the first half behind Miami’s endless barrage of three pointers, Duncan Robinson once again setting the tone by hitting his first three. The Heat hit 11 first half threes, using that to build a dominating 74-56 halftime lead.
Indiana got some breaks in the third quarter with the Heat missing shots to start the half. The Pacers, meanwhile found a bit of a spark, cutting the lead to eight on a 12-2 run, including some exciting plays from the likes of T.J. Warren.
Unfortunately for the Pacers, that eight point wall proved insurmountable for much of the quarter. After cutting the lead to single digits three minutes into the quarter at 76-68, the Pacers could not get stops, stop turning it over, or make shots in successive order for the next seven minutes.
Aaron Holiday broke the Pacers through late in the quarter, hitting a crucial corner three to cut it to nine, then attacking the rim for a layup to make it seven. Warren scored to make it five and Myles Turner got to the line in the final minute after an overturned call on a Kelly Olynyk flop with a chance to make it three.
He would only split the trip, however, putting Indiana down 94-90 heading into the fourth. The Pacers cut it to two on Doug McDermott drive, but immediately surrendered a basket on the other end. The ease in which the Heat could score was on display at that point, as they methodically inched the lead back up to nine on a Tyler Herro three.
Down the stretch, Indiana had no answer for Bam Adebayo, who worked his way to the line to keep the Pacers at bay and then coming up with two crucial offensive rebounds after Brogdon had cut the lead to two at 114-112. Adebayo’s rebounds and subsequent free throws were the sign to turn out the lights, as the party was indeed over.
The Pacers actually made some notable adjustments that were working in the second half, especially in regards to Brogdon’s ability to switch Herro on to him for an easy two points, eventually forcing him out of the game. Brogdon finished with 34 points and 14 assists. His play was crucial in bringing Indiana back in the second half, but whatever aim and purpose the Pacers had for much of the half seemed to dissipate after Herro’s exit.
The positives in this game were swallowed up whole by Miami’s ability to get to the free throw line. The Pacers were whistled for 31 fouls in the game, sending the Heat to the line 52 times. They completed 43 of those attempts, outscoring Indiana by 22 at the line, by far the deciding factor in this one.
The Heat not only got to the line regularly, they got to the line when they had to. Every time the Pacers made a push in the second half, the Heat, particularly that of Jimmy Butler, was there to put a stop to it. He went 17-20 from the line on his own, overcoming an otherwise poor shooting night of 5-16.
There were a lot of big scoring numbers in this one. Seven players reached 20 or more points, but it was Herro that made the difference off the bench, pushing the Heat to a 25-14 bench win. After starting the first two games, A. Holiday was switched out for Justin Holiday, a move that both benefited Indiana early and hurt the Pacers as soon as Aaron came in, quickly falling for two fouls.
Victor Oladipo continues to play up and down, only flashing positives of slashes to the rim among the costly fouls, turnovers, and missed shots. The three he did hit were that many more than Warren made, as he continues to struggle from three point range. Warren still hasn’t found his looks in this series, but he did manage to work his way to the line today, going 7-7, a big boost in an otherwise lopsided free throw loss.
Myles Turner had a double double of his own with 15 points and 12 rebounds, doing admirable work against Adebayo for a good portion of the game. The minutes he rested in the fourth were an open invitation for the Heat to feed Adebayo against JaKarr Sampson and get him into a rhythm that would carry Miami to the win.
The second half of this game was the first time all series the Pacers showed an appropriate level of fight. They outscored the Heat 34-20 in the third quarter and had multiple opportunities to not only take the lead, but to turn this into a series. It’s too bad for them that they didn’t bring that level to their play in the first half, which now puts them in an 0-3 hole as they face yet another first round sweep.
Prior to 2016, the Pacers had never been swept out of a seven game series. Should it happen Monday, it will be the third time in four years. Perhaps Indiana can steal one off the Heat, but short of a miraculous comeback (no team has ever won after trailing 0-3), it will end up being the most profoundly disappointing series in recent memory in a half decade full of them. One would think this would usher in some kind of change, but doesn’t appear likely given the recent extension of Nate McMillan.
Game 4 will take place on Monday at 6:30 p.m.