Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Heat - Pacers Game Four: When Inevitable Isn't

West and Hibbert, mostly
The thing about the Heat is that while they are a dominant team (and as they are now 48-6 over their last 54 games, they are that good)... it's a very thin dominance, since it's so star-dependent. They are always a turned ankle or indifferent effort away from looking like, well, a team without consistent bench play or dominant bigs, dependent on getting in transition, and prone to getting smacked in the face in the paint by talented bigs. Tonight, the Pacers showed that what looked so inevitable and easy after Game 3 was not the true level of the series. Which means we're getting more games of what's turning out to be a great, great basketball war.

Indy came out like a house on fire with an 11-0 run; the Heat recovered, but far from fully. In the second, Dwyane Wade looked hurt at best or disinterested and hurt at worst, and the Pacers were up, running, hungry, young, the basketball equivalent of wolves feeding off the howls of the home pack. With LeBron James losing his blood thirst for post play, the offense that was absurdly dominant for Miami in Game 3 saw the field goal percentage chopped in half, and Lance Stephenson was meeting the Heat flop for flop. Paul George's foul trouble was not an issue, and Chris Anderson lost his mojo against Roy Hibbert, who was the best player on the floor in the first half.

But with so much going right for the Pacers, the half ended with the Heat chip, chip, chipping away. Especially with the Pacer offense having issues, and with a minute left to go in the first, Wade flashed the old form for the old-school three. After a comedic repeat of the take Roy Hibbert out and allow James to score play, Miami trailed by just a point at the half.

In the third, the teams traded the lead for a couple of minutes, and then the Heat went into Hyper Defense Mode, where every pass looks forced and Mario Chalmers looks a lot better than he actually is. By the time Vogel got the way too late timeout, the Heat were up six. David West kicked it up a notch with a make, a room service o-board, a make and and another o-board off a FT miss, leading to Chalmers' fourth and a Stephenson tap in; just a disastrous sequence for the Heat, capped by a bad Bosh miss from the arc and a cake baseline jumper for West. Spoelstra's time for the way too late timeout, and a fresh Pacer lead when Miami was starting to look inevitable.

With 5:05 left in the third, Bosh went down in a heap against Hibbert for his fourth foul and an ankle problem. After one Hibbert make and West getting the line against Shane Battier, the lead was four. With James still deferring, Wade ended the 10-0 run with a make that Hibbert answered easily. Stephenson trips James for a foul as Pacer Fan kind of makes an idiot of herself, and Allen's drive is slow motion old guy to make it three. Hill makes a three, which James answers, and the game starts getting good. TNT, sadly, is recreating their Spurs Fan mistake of not watching the ground sound. James with the block of the year in transition on Hill -- just an insane play -- and the scramble leads to Hill's fourth and a Vogel tech. That might have been one of the five best defensive plays I've ever seen. Wade gets a call on Sam Young as Pacer Fan loses her fudge; the Midwest polite serenade of "He's A Flopper" is not backed up by the basketball gods, who grace Wade with two makes. (Pacer Fan, the chant for ref hate is Bull Shit. Do not deviate from the chant.) Hill makes an old-school three with the get-even call on Allen. Wade misses after an ugly possession, Hill answers with an absurd three attempt, and James gets a cheap and dumb foul against West with 2 seconds left. Not a play befitting the MVP, and one that would cost him later. Stephenson's miracle rainbow three from the corner ends the quarter, gives the Pacers a 7-point lead, and ends a wildly entertaining quarter of basketball. Calling Stephenson a wildcard is an insult to wildcards. Pacers 77, Heat 70.

Starting the fourth, Allen is denied at the rim; he really has no business going there in traffic at this stage in his career. Ian Mahinmi takes a clear goaltend against James as Pacer Fan howls, then makes a clear push for the offensive turn. James wears down Stephenson for a foul, then misses; it looks like he's going to the block in this quarter. West gets a bailout rim touch that becomes a Mahinmi tap in. Miami needs to end this lead before they spend all of their energy fighting uphill, but Allen's open three stays out, and Hibbert owns Anderson again to push it to nine. James misses from the arc, and the Heat aren't going well with this pace.

Indy gets boned on a shot clock violation; the TNT guys giggle about the lack of home love, but that's a big blown call and the spark to a Heat run. Chalmers draws Stephenson's fifth with 8:09 left, and that's another major problem. Two makes cuts it to seven. Wade with a timely steal and D.J. Augustin's clueless transition foul means the Heat will spend the last 7:54 at the line; telling. Two more makes and it's a 5 point game. George makes a tough one; Chalmers gets it right back, and this might be his best game as a professional. James with another absurd block after a foul, and Wade finishes at the other end; three point game. Bosh blocks Hill for another de facto turnover, and James drains a three for the capper of an 11-2 run as visiting Heat Fan makes himself heard. Tie game halfway through the fourth, and for the love of God, TNT, control the crowd around your floor mics.

James with an easy steal off the inbounds, and Wade gets to the rim for a goaltend and one; Wade's rep as a new dirtbag prevents the refs from reviewing for flagrant there. George gets it right back with his own effort over James, and that's the MVP's fourth. Allen hits a miracle three bailout, but if anyone is going to make that, it's an all-time leader in threes made. Wade gets his fifth on West with 4:55 left, and this one really could end with a half dozen stars watching. One make makes it a 2-point Heat lead. Chalmers is denied on a drive; West and James go WWE to a no-call as the Pacers miss. Bosh's three misses, and Stephenson shakes, bakes, and makes for yet another tie. Lance has no fear, probably because fear involves awareness of the clock, situation, or his relative talent level. It's heartening, in a way...

With 208 seconds left to determine if this series will go long, the Heat settle for a long Wade deuce; no good and not good. The Pacers nearly lose it, then get George taking off paint for a board back from Hibbert. Chalmers and then Allen miss, with Hill getting the loose ball and timeout call. 142 seconds left, 2-point Pacer lead and the ball. Stephenson misses a three, but West gets an easy board for more clock. Hibbert misses a hook, but gets the board, make and foul, and that's just strong as hell. Five point Pacer lead with 90 seconds left; fifth on James... so LeBron just drains a three. Unfair, unreal, but the Pacers don't blink, with Hibbert getting another o-board and make. James then gets his sixth on what might be the shakiest call you'll ever see against an MVP in the final minute of a playoff game, and that should be it, really; just an amazing call for a league that usually lets stars decide things. I get that it's probably a foul, but still. Second time that James has fouled out in a playoff game in 128 games... and the other time was also Joey Crawford! So nice to have him in moments like this.

Indy just needs to not make mistakes at this point, and fails; turnover after a very long peep show with 36.7 left gives the visitors a chance. Wade blows that with a turnover; his reluctance to shoot the three is obvious at this point, though the travel looks a little dicey to me, and takes what could have been a made three off the boards. Hill makes one for yet another opening and yay, more screen time for Crawford on an obvious of bounds call. I love the Association, but man alive, the ref work is just way too noticeable.

Last gasp time for the Heat, and Allen's miss is to be expected; Battier puts George on the line with hurt feelings, because Shane Battier smells like onions. Hibbert leaves because Vogel has to do that, and several misses later, the horn blows. Pacers 99, Heat 92, and it's a best of three now, with Game Five on Thursday.

I can't help but feel a little cheated; not by the Pacers winning, but by James fouling it under highly dubious circumstances in what was still a winnable game for the Heat. The fact that they weren't on path to win that game, and were somehow in a road contest when they shot 30 for 77 from the floor and were -19 (!) on the glass, will all be forgotten about as you watch replay after replay of Foul #6, because we are not allowed to consider the entirety of a game.

 Indy didn't steal this one, or have it given to them by the refs; they took it, rebound by rebound and response by response. It wasn't Crawford that shook off that stunning block by James, or his no conscience three, or 3.5 quarters of Mario Chalmers playing out of his mind; it was Hibbert, Stephenson and West and George and Hill. You don't end a game 16-6 and steal it, or have it given to you.

We've got at least two more games of this series. I don't care if you don't like either of these teams, or any of these stars: this was, and is, great hoop, at a time of the season when you don't always get that. I'm hoping the Finals is half as good.


snd_dsgnr said...

I'm not a fan of LeBron, as I've said I think it's a fan's duty to root for underdogs, but there are times watching him play when he's just so much better than everyone else on the court that it's jaw dropping. The block you mentioned was one of those moments.

People shouldn't have the physical gifts that he does. He's a walking cheat code.

DMtShooter said...

The thing about the play wasn't that he blocked a smaller guy at the rim -- that happens all the time -- it's that he chased it down, measured and timed the move and got it with such cleanliness, such a measure of body control, that it was just fundamentally different than any other play like that.

Or, to be short, walking cheat code. That works too.

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