Sunday, May 26, 2013

Heat - Pacers Game Three: Sixth Gear

Udonis and Umakethis
In the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, at home, the Heat didn't look like, well, the team that had won an absurd percentage of games for the past 4+ months. Indy led for long stretches, crashed the boards, forced turnovers, and had their best player fight the Heat's best player to something akin to a draw. If you wanted to tell the story of how the Heat were a paper tiger who took advantage of two DOA playoff opponents, you had your chances.

Tonight, the dominant Heat showed up. And they played a game that made them look like a club that can't possibly be beat.

Starting the first quarter, the Heat threw doubles at Roy Hibbert, which is one of those between game adjustments that make you wonder, well, why that couldn't have been an in-game adjustment. Miami clearly ratcheted up the defense early as well, but didn't get the game into the up and down pace they prefer. Chris Bosh hit a three, which is usually not such a big deal, but given how Hibbert in the lane tends to discourage Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, I guess it matters. Miami treaded water early without much from James (Bosh, you have to expect a little, but Udonis Haslem?), and the Pacers hit open threes; it was also telling that there seemed to be no shortage of Heat fans in the building. Curious. They also combined to go 16 for 20 in the first 5.5 minutes, which is crazy high for any playoff game, let alone one in this series.

Tyler Hansborough came on for the Pacers in the first quarter, and honestly, I don't know how any fan base roots for the guy. He's just so ungainly, so whiny, that even the positive contributions seem too dearly bought. For the record, I also kind of hate Chris Anderson, so this isn't a matter of bias towards one team or the other. Anderson is a better player, for what it's worth, though he's also playing in the cushiest role in the NBA.

The Pacers ended the first quarter with turnovers, which is deadly against any good team, but especially against Miami. They were fortunate to be just down 4, though perhaps fortunate is too strong of a word to use when you shoot over 70% from the floor and give Haslem multiple looks.

In the second, the Heat were able to keep up the defensive pressure and build a lead, with the Pacers rarely getting a good look or shooting before the end of the clock. James started to use his strength against Paul George and in a blink, it was a 10-point Heat lead. David West and Wade traded solid and-ones with missed FTs, and Anderson picked up his second; the Birdman can't hang with West, but West can't usually carry a team, so it's something of a mixed bag. James drew a whirling knee from Lance Stephenson to enrage Pacer Fan some more, but the bigger point is that the MVP was posting and delivering consistently, leading to 70 first half points without the game being a lay-up fest. Efficiency is an amazing thing to watch, especially when it comes with athleticism. The Heat kept the lead for the rest of the second quarter, with Wade in particular looking solid, but there wasn't a player in black who looked bad in the half. James hit a floater at the buzzer, and the Heat led by 14 at the whistle. Just dominant offensive basketball there.

Starting the third, Mario Chalmers had a nice moment of punkery by spiking the ball off the back of Hibbert's head to save a possession; that's so Mario! Miami extended the lead early before giving up a three and just their second turnover, and George hit a three after an uncalled foot shuffle to bring it back to 10... but Wade just looked rocking chair cozy on the answer. Hill's old-school 3 continued the run, and James missed an open look for the Stephenson run out; that's Bosh's fourth foul and a full-throated comeback for the Pacers, who cut it to seven after a 1-for-2 trip. Haslem made a run-breaker, but the Pacers were clearly playing better ball. Chalmers rolled his ankle badly, but stayed in to make the FTs and remain in the game. Hibbert's o-board, make and old-school 3 was deeply dependent on Stephenson running, and that's Chalmers' fourth, too. Troublesome for the favorites. The point guard got very lucky that he didn't get his fifth on the and-one push on Hill, and it was still 10. Haslem ended an absolutely perfect possession -- Wade pulling it out instead of going 1 on 3, four passes in quick succession to the open baseline shooter -- and the game was for all intents and purposes, over.

Going into the fourth, it became apparent that the Heat weren't going to fold, and that the Pacers weren't going to reach a sixth gear to close the gap. James in the post was a machine, the ball movement was just crisp as hell, and the last 16+ minutes of game time was more or less Garbage Time. Wade took a flop for the ages that isn't going to do anything for his rapidly deteriorating Thug Rep, the Heat had every starter in double figures and finished with five turnovers, and Haslem and Anderson combined to shoot 12 for 13 for 26 points and 16 boards in 45 minutes. Not too shabby, Miami. For the Pacers, Hibbert had 20 and 17, but shot 4 for 12 in doing it, and West's 21 and 10 were mostly forgettable. Your final is Miami 114, Indiana 96, and the Heat now lead 2-1.

Can the Pacers even this up? Well, maybe; the Heat can't play this well again, and even in a blowout, the Pacers owned the glass, 45 to 36. (That's less impressive than it sounds, really: the Heat had precious few chances for o-boards, what with all of those made shots.) If the Pacers can get the defensive pressure back up and get back the dozen-odd turnovers that were present in the first two games, it gets close again.

But what we saw tonight was the Heat going to sixth gear, where they are the best basketball team in the world. The Pacers didn't even play bad, and they weren't even able to stay in the rear view window at home. The team that was going to end all suspense just showed up again.


snd_dsgnr said...

"Tyler Hansborough came on for the Pacers in the first quarter, and honestly, I don't know how any fan base roots for the guy. He's just so ungainly, so whiny, that even the positive contributions seem too dearly bought."

You're not wrong, he's definitely whiny and there's nothing pretty about his game. In college he was endearing because he never took plays off, and that kind of energy was infectious to his more talented teammates. For whatever that's worth.

I kind of have similar feelings about Wade to be honest, in that I don't understand why he's so well liked. He got his first ring because the refs decided halfway through the finals that it was going to be illegal to guard him (causing me to stop watching the league for a couple of years btw), he takes incredibly cheap shots in games that he's rarely called out for by the announcers, and he pulls crap like that dive and then proceeds to stare angrily at the ref for not gifting him the call.

I dislike the Heat as a concept because I think good fans are obligated to root for underdogs, but the only players I actually have enmity towards are Wade and Battier.

DMtShooter said...

I get it, and have spoken of Wade's disappearing reputation; it's as if the animosity that many have stopped feeling towards James is commuting to Wade. I won't hold what the refs did for him against Dallas against him; every player in the NBA wants that kind of treatment. But the puling that he does for the calls is positively Jordan-esque, or if you want to stay more current, Iversonian. I long for the superstar who laughs at bad ref calls.

As for why he's liked, it's simple: he's a good interview and accommodates the media, and plays off his responsible single father role in ads. As a player, I appreciate his ridiculous body control, hops and defensive willingness; he's one of the best shot blockers ever to play shooting guard, and in transition, he's deadly. He can't shoot threes and struggles from the line; he's basically the platinum Andre Iguodala, which is a type of player I appreciate. But the cheap-shotting is getting ridiculous, and if the NBA was like the Association we grew up with, someone would have clocked him by now. It's not, so he's taking advantage.

Battier is your UNC showing. If he went to any other school, you wouldn't care about him. I don't want college ball, so he isn't on my radar.

As for rooting for underdogs... I'm old and compromised by fantasy. Players tend to outrank teams for me, and a compelling and close game trumps all.

Snd_dsgnr said...

The Battier thing is definitely me being a UNC fan, I readily admit that. I respect a bunch of Dookies, but I only like a very select few. Mostly guys I've actually met, most notably Elton Brand and Jay Williams.

Oh, and for the record, I didn't like MJ back I the day either. Too young to have formed memories of him in Carolina blue, his last year in town I was 1.

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