by Kent Sterling
The Big Three has become the Big One as James has outscored Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade combined 171-155, and the Pacers have threatened to derail the Heat’s plans to repeat as NBA Champions. Coming off a 66-win regular season and easy series wins against Milwaukee and Chicago, there was discussion about the Heat’s coronation as one of the great teams in NBA history. Haven’t heard that talk for awhile.
The Pacers have won five of their last nine games against the Heat, and are one more win away from advancing to the NBA Finals against the very well-rested (possibly atrophic) San Antonio Spurs.
The Heat have suffered through what appears to be a serious knee issue for Dwyane Wade, and the malaise of Chris Bosh whose work in this series has been very soft. Bosh’s game six total of four rebounds actually improved his average for the series. That is a pretty good indicator of Bosh’s desire to contribute.
Here are the keys for the Pacers to win:
- Every offensive possession for Miami has to be a root canal. Nothing can be easy. When the Pacers turn the ball over, and hoping they take care of the ball appears to be fruitless, they need to get back on defense, be disruptive, and minimize the offensive opportunities that are generated. Points off turnover provided an 19-17 advantage for the Pacers in game six despite turning the ball over 21 times to the Heat’s 14. With the Pacers proclivity to turn the ball over, it’s not the errors that cost them, but the fallout.
- Perform well under duress. The Pacers sport a starting five who average age is 26. That’s young – really young – to have any idea how to behave when it’s nut cutting time down the stretch of a game seven. At some point during this game, the Heat are going to show their teeth. When that happens, the Pacers need to stay poised, take care of the details, and execute. Minus the 30-13 run the Heat put together in the third quarter of game five and the overall poor play in game three, the Pacers have been magnificent at answering those calls.
- Roy Hibbert needs to abandon his contrition for Saturday night comments. There is the question of the effect the controversy surrounding Roy Hibbert might have on his on-court demeanor. Reflection is wonderful in front of a microphone, but it has no place on the basketball court. Pacers fans need to hope that Hibbert gets it all out of his system when he strokes the check to the NBA for $75K to cover his fine.
- Eliminate second chance points. Because the Pacers turn the ball over as part of their DNA, they need to excel in other areas to limit Heat possessions. Keeping the Heat off the offensive glass is key.
- Bench players must defend exceptionally well. We’ve seen enough of Tyler Hanbrough, Sam Young, Ian Mahinmi, and D.J. Augustine to know it’s very unlikely any will contribute points, so they must limit Heat scoring opportunities during their short shifts.
- Backcourt must be productive. When the combination of George Hill and Lance Stephenson are efficient with their offense, the Pacers win. Indiana fans have taken to referring to Stephenson as “Good Lance” and “Bad Lance.” Good Lance is aggressive right to the edge of lunacy. Bad Lance retreats and simply functions. The Pacers can’t overcome Bad Lance. George Hill needs to get gritty and make plays. If any of the Pacers lay back and wait for someone else to make a play, they have no shot. All five need to be aggressive and make plays to have a chance.
Here is the only key for the Heat:
- Two players need to step up and contribute offensively to help James. Doesn’t matter what combination of Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Wade, Bosh, Mike Miller, Ray Allen, Chris Anderson, and Norris Cole put the ball in the bucket, but two of James’ teammates need to find a way to make a lot of buckets.
This is a massive opportunity for the Pacers. If they play well, the franchise’s second trip to the NBA Finals will be a reality, and with that trip a validation for each of the players of a life’s work trying to build himself into the best basketball player he can be. But that reward is only attainable through the correct execution of the smallest details.
A loss by the Heat would also serve as a defining moment as they try to craft a legacy. James desperately wants a team he plays on to join Bill Russell’s Celtics, Magic Johnson’s Lakers, Larry Bird’s Celtics, and Michael Jordan’s Bulls as one of the best to ever play. A loss tonight corrupts that effort – perhaps irreparably.
Quiet minds succeed during stressful times. Do your jobs every possession and let the result take care of itself.