Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Heat - Pacers Game Two: The Observed Gravity Problem

Tonight in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals in Indiana, the Heat found themselves in a 63-62 game after three quarters. The Pacers were a good quarter away from going up 2-0 and holding home court. Lance Stephenson was playing well, Roy Hibbert wasn't cowering in the fetal position, and the Pacer home crowd was into it.

So the home team was, well, roughly in the same position that Wile E. Coyote is in after he runs a long way off the cliff, and fails to fall because gravity exists only when witnessed.

Then the fourth quarter started. And LeBron James and Dwyane Wade caught the Pacers attention, and pointed down. Gravity, and a 4-point Heat win that only got that close from some unfocused play in the final seconds, ensued.

Here's why stars beat teams, assuming the stars are actually stars, in the NBA; decisiveness in the final minutes, and elite level one on one defense. Down 7 with 1:37 left after a Wade jumper, the Pacers needed a quick score, and maybe even a three, to have a chance at coming back. 22 seconds later, Hibbert missed a mid-range jumper. And that was basically the ball game.

In the time before Hibbert, the Pacers' tallest player and really not the guy you want taking the long shot with little chance of offensive rebound, tried to beat the clock, Pacers PG George Hill tried without success to get clear for a three. Pacer SF Paul George got the ball off a high screen and tried to get free from beyond the arc, also to no avail. Neither man was able to penetrate or draw the foul, and neither man was able to swing the ball to an open corner shooter, because both guys were being swallowed by clean and perfect one on one defense, administered by superior athletes. Which led to a long clock at exactly the wrong time to have it, and a long 2-point jumper from the player on the floor that the Heat most wanted to take it.

In NBA games, there are points that matter more than other points. These are dunks that deflate the opponent, three-pointers that spread the floor, scores plus free throws that get an important player in foul trouble, and so on. On defense, it usually seems like the big blocked shot with the Mutumbo finger waggle, or the deafening 24-second clock violation when the home team, in the great words of Sixers' play by play guy Marc Zumoff, locks all doors and windows.

But in this game, the fourth quarter was just possession after possession where the Heat gave the Pacers nothing but what they wanted the Pacers to take... and it just looks like they can go there whenever they want.

Which is why the Heat won this game, and why they are going to win this series.

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