Monday, May 26, 2014

Heat - Pacers Game 4: Watch More Than The Score

Superhero Ball: See Left
With a minute left in the first half of tonight's Game Four, the Heat had a terrible possession. It consisted of LeBron James dribbling alone at the top of the key, the other four players arcing around the perimeter around him. The Pacers met this lack of pressure or ball movement with equal obliviousness, as PG George Hill came out to apply ball pressure later in the clock. James, adept at recognizing gifts when they are given, drove on Hill, reversed near the cup, took a glancing and half-hearted defensive blow, and finished with one of those body control moments that, well, he's still pretty much alone in performing in the world. The Heat went up 10, and I wondered if that was going to be the psychologically damaging moment, the one that sparks a run that extends the lead. Instead, Paul George sank a three, Miami turned it over, and the Pacers got another bucket before the end of the half. Five point game for Miami. The potential for drama. And yet, I felt no differently about the game, and the series, than I had before the run. Miami was going to win easily.

There is a difference in how Miami scores, and how Indy scores. Indy scores from mid-range jump shots, open threes from screens, offensive rebounds, and other bread and butter aspects of what every basketball team above middle school runs. They are athletic, of course, and prone to moments of brilliance, but these are moments, and nothing more. What makes them better than other teams is when they execute on defense, and being just a bit better at the same things that everyone else does. (And, if you want to be downright mean about it, their relatively low level of competition, prior to this series.)

Miami scores on plays like the Superhero Ball play noted above, or when James gets a defensive rebound and dribbles the length of the floor faster than the defenders can run without the ball, or when James sucks in the double team and hits a pocket pass to wide open cutters, or when wide-open shooters hit threes off the absurd pressure that James puts on a defense. It almost always looks easier for Miami to score, even when they aren't scoring as much as Indy. And then there are just absurd bailout shots, like when James hit a three at the end of the clock with 16 minutes left in the game, giving the Heat a 16-point lead. Or when he did his defensive board to runaway train slam to make it 17 with 13 minutes left, or when Norris Cole took forever to hit a 3 to make it a 20-point game a few minutes later...

Some will chastise Indy for their lack of heart tonight. Others will wonder why, if Hibbert is going to be useless, why head coach Frank Vogel didn't go small earlier, the way the Pacers did when they made the final score look much closer than the game was. But I can't fault either. The Pacers know, from plays like the one James made with a minute left in the first, when the other team is just simply a lot better than you, and there's not much that you can do about it. And Vogel knows that late comebacks with small lineups are pyrite. The Pacers aren't winning games in this series by getting away from their bigs.

The Pacers got nothing from Hibbert tonight, and next to nothing from Lance Stephenson (wonder if he'll still keep talking about James' weak trash talk?), and that won't happen in Game Five in Indy in two days. The refs are also going to bend over backwards for Indy to extend this, and Miami isn't going to do stuff like be near-flawless from the free throw line. Indy will also rebound better, because they can hardly rebound worse.If the Pacers win Game Five, after coming back to make Game Four look stealable, some will feel like they are starting to figure out Miami, or that maybe James is getting tired, or yada yada yada.

But what they can't do, at least not very often, is look like they aren't working a lot harder than Miami is to score.

So, in Game Five on Wednesday night, when the Pacers try to extend their season and run out to some emotion-fueled lead against a Heat team that will seem to be deciding whether or not to extend the effort to end the season on the road...

Look at the floor, more than the scoreboard.

If it's anything like the rest of this series, what you see out there will predict the final outcome much better than the score will.

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