Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pacers - Heat Game 2: Closing Out The Only Quarter That Matters

Steal This Series
One of the things that just drives you nuts, if you watch NBA playoff games, is how analysts emphasize the importance of closing out quarters. Points at the end of a quarter, we are told, matter very very much, and you are told this so often, it starts to feel like you are in the presence of a child with special needs. If points at the end of quarters really mattered that much, there would never be counter-runs at the start of quarters, and a team would never have to decisively win more than one of them. Points are points; if you get more than the opponent, you win. It's really not necessary to fill up a b-roll with highlights before the commercial to do that.

There is, of course, some small kernel of wisdom to the closing quarters school of thought, which is why it has persisted to this day, and that is this: if both teams are playing harder and faster, because they are operating under the human impulse to pay more attention when the clock is running down, you can call points at the end a leading indicator. One that's routinely fooled since the star who closes the first three quarters might be out of gas in the fourth. Which gets us back to, as every Heat game must, to LeBron James.

Tonight, he had 36/8/3 on 14 of 20 shooting... but he also had five turnovers, two in the final minute that were absolutely disastrous for the Heat in the kind of neck and neck game that the defending champion and home team should win, and nearly always does in the midst of a championship run. And in the middle of telling a story of how James is now clutch and the best closer in the game on top of everything else, that minute would get you right back into the LeBron's Not Clutch silliness.

So the Heat closed out three out of four quarters brilliantly tonight. Just not the one that mattered. And the reason why was that the Pacers actually played their best players (hint: those would be big men), rather than adapt to what the Heat wanted to do. Had they done that in Game One, we'd have a very different series right now.

Speaking for the Pacers, Roy Hibbert went off for 29 tonight, and if he keeps doing that, Indy is going to win this series. At some point, you have to stop giving Chris Bosh and Chris Anderson credit for being nice pieces and point out that Hibbert and Paul George owned them at the rim. Combining Bird and Bosh gets you get 24 and 8, which seems fine... but not so much in 52 minutes, and really not so much when the Pacers get 7 more rebounds. And it's hard to see how the Heat are going to suddenly turn that around, unless James wants to give guard centers now. (Don't think he won't. The block he had on Hibbert in the fourth tonight was absurd on multiple levels.)

The more telling point is that George has given his team everything they could ask for. Through the first two games, he's been the rare guy who's gone head to head against James and given similar value, in that he doesn't seem to let the half-dozen No One Can Stop That plays get to him. That kind of thing hasn't really happened to James since early in his career, when Paul Pierce could play old man Jedi mind tricks on him, or other teams just thugged him.

There's also this; I think that Heat opponents are actually served when James hits from behind the arc, because I'd much rather have him out there then down low, tonight's turnovers notwithstanding. The big thing that happens when James is the shooter, rather than the distributor, is that the Heat bench doesn't get the room service looks and dunks that usually make them such a happy crew. Tonight, they scored 19 points in 71 minutes tonight, and if you want to toss Udonis Haslem and Mario Chalmers in that mix, it's 26 in 114, on 8 for 25 shooting. Not exactly getting it done.

So the Pacers have taken home court advantage, and could easily be up 2-0 and going back home. They are 6-0 at home in these playoffs, though the Heat are a different order of opponent than the Hawks and Knicks. My guess is that we're going to see these teams tied at 2-2 after the next two games, but that involves Miami getting more guys involved, especially from the bench... which doesn't usually happen as well at home. And it's not as if this Heat team has actually faced adversity this year. We've officially gone into the Very Interesting part of this series. See you Sunday.

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