Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Heat - Pacers Game Five: Indiana Explained

Blow Jobber
Tonight in Indy, the Pacers won a 3-point game to prolong their best of seven series. MVP LeBron James played less than half of the game due to some of the more Donaghy-esque foul calls you've ever seen, Indy got a huge night from Paul George, and the fact that it was a close anyway sets up a closeout game for Miami on Friday night that looks like an utter beatdown to me.

You could dwell on the details of the fourth quarter, when George bailed out Roy Hibbert with an absurd make, when James deferred to Chris Bosh for a corner three and the win opportunity, rather than the more likely tying rack make, or how this series is just a train wreck of brickery, flops and old-school heel behavior. But all of that is stuff I knew, and you knew, and have known for years, which is why people are so reticent about giving the Heat credit for anything. I'm going to skate past all of that. Rather, I'm going to talk about the second quarter. Trust me, it revealed much.

After the first, Indy was up 22-16. James was in foul trouble, and wasn't going to get back on the floor in the first half. This is the point of the game where a normal NBA bench comes in and lays down the law, extends the lead, and plays with the utter comfort of being at home and with a lead, against a road team that isn't looking to try too hard. Instead, the Pacers... brought in their bench players.

And dear Lord in Heaven, are they horrible.

You see, I've been confused as to how a team based on balance and defense has been so erratic. I've thought it had something to do with Lance Stephenson being a functioning psychotic, or how George Hill is just not good enough to be a starting point guard, but there have been any number of teams that have employed Ron Artest and a poor point that hasn't been like, well, the Pacers. But the more I watched, as a middling at best Heat bench came back to take a lead at the half without any help from James at all, or even all that much good play on their own. And it all fell together.

Every NBA bench is, by definition, suspect. If these players were better, they'd be starting. But the Pacers go further. To to call this a substandard outfit is obvious, but the bigger point -- that this might be the least useful bench of any Final Four team in recent memory -- is more telling. Their best player in this series has been Rasual Butler, a 35-year-old vagabond wing who spent last year in the D-League. Their second best benchie is Ian Mahimi, who is a willing banger with hands to match. Luis Scola seems like he's useful, because he's got some shiftiness in the post and Euro trickery, but that ignores the fact that he's an absolute turnstile on defense, and turnover-prone. Last and least is CJ Watson, a low percentage guard who does nothing at league average levels.

Who's the defensive hammer in this group? No one. Who can give them instant offense that's not volume driven? Well, um, no one. Who is on the upswing of his career, a high draft pick, a starter in 2-3 years, a guy who could emerge as a starter on a worse team, a plus athlete, a knockdown three point threat? None of the above all over.

And this shows how the final misery of the Pacers -- their incredibly erratic play in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and the seeming lack of heart they showed in this entire playoff run -- isn't a mystery. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

On Friday night, the Heat will get early foul calls. After two days of watching Stephenson blow into James' ear, he's going to be lucky to get out of the first minute without a technical. Hibbert will disappear. James will dominate. And then the first quarter will end, and Frank Vogel will look to his bench, or to his exhausted starers, all of whom he needed to whip to the post tonight just to prolong the series. It won't end pretty.

So when you see those pained reaction shots from Larry Bird?

You're actually looking at the cause of the problem.

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