Posted May 23, 2013

Heat escaped with a win, but Game 1 revealed reigning champs’ weaknesses

2013 NBA playoffs, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Rob Mahoney
Roy Hibbert grabs a rebound against the Miami Heat

Roy Hibbert was a force on the boards in Game 1, and his size gives the Pacers a big advantage. (Greg Nelson/SI)

The Pacers have a knack for playing the Heat competitively, and in Game 1 they played the champs about as closely as possible. If not for an improbable drive by LeBron James on the game’s final possession, Indiana would have executed a clever theft of home-court advantage in the series’ opening act — an achievement still unlikely to make the Pacers favorites, but significant in dictating the course of the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, Frank Vogel’s decision to sit Roy Hibbert on that final, fateful possession has devoured most all other reflection on the game itself, and in the process obscured all that went wrong for the Heat in Game 1. This particular near-loss may not have turned the series against Miami, but it did spotlight several problematic factors worth considering.

Rebounding

Due to shaky ball handling and a more generally plodding pace, Indiana’s offense hinges heavily on its clean-up. Only three other teams in the league this season relied on second-chance points for a greater percentage of their overall scoring, and in Game 1 those extra opportunities accounted for roughly a quarter of the Pacers’ offense. Hibbert alone grabbed seven offensive boards in his 41 minutes of action, and on the whole, Indiana’s active, outsized frontcourt collected a rebound on almost half (44 percent) of its own misses. That influx of possessions didn’t just put Indiana in a position to win with 2.2 seconds remaining in overtime, but also served to avoid a runaway loss. Many of the Pacers’ put-backs came in the midst of furious Heat rallies, in effect stunting the momentum of a run in a way that little else could. With that, Indiana’s second-chance buckets fulfilled a function more crucial than scoring — particularly against a Miami team that’s so dangerous going downhill.

Both the specific rebounding numbers and Miami’s effort level on the glass will fluctuate throughout the series, but this particular weakness is fundamental to the matchup. In addition to the blatant size disadvantage that the Heat surrender, their defensive system is predicated on such frequent scrambling that boxing out every potential rebounding threat can prove problematic. In this particular series, that fault is magnified by a group of massive (Hibbert), strong (David West) and active (Tyler Hansbrough, Ian Mahinmi) opposing bigs. This is simply the advantage that the Pacers hold over the best team in the NBA, though it might be less substantial were Chris Bosh (who finished with just two rebounds) to play a more active role on the defensive end.

Also, it need be noted that Miami’s struggles on the defensive glass can’t be generalized to rebounding in total, as the Heat grabbed 38 percent of their misses and nearly matched the Pacers in second-chance points. That’s easy to overlook given the general tilt of this series’ narrative, but Miami could put itself in a position to finish this series quickly if it can play the offensive boards to a virtual wash in subsequent games.

Perimeter shooting

Indiana’s defense excels in imposing limitations, and can prove particularly strict in inhibiting three-point attempts. This is just one of the many benefits that Hibbert’s presence on the backline provides. By virtue of having a tall, long-armed deterrent hovering in between the ball and the basket, Indiana’s perimeter defenders are afforded a chance to challenge ball handlers and remain glued to potentially dangerous shooters. As a result, only the Bulls held opponents to fewer three-point attempts per game  in the regular season.

We have every reason to think that Indiana will curtail Miami’s three-point attempts in this series, as the Heat shot 6.4 fewer threes per game against the Pacers this season than they did on average. But in those regular-season meetings, Miami’s shooters made up for their lack of volume by maximizing the value of select opportunities. That wasn’t at all the case in Game 1, when Shane Battier and Ray Allen combined to go 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, providing the dead weight behind Miami’s 27.8 percent three-point shooting. There were some desperation shots that superficially deflated the Heat’s long-range accuracy, but overall this is a far lower mark than any that Miami posted against Indiana in the regular season. A world of credit goes to the Pacers for preempting most every swing pass and rotating accordingly, but one has to think that the Heat’s best shooters will at some point knock down looks like these:

Miami will likely have to make do with fewer of those juicy corner threes going forward, but that doesn’t mean quality shots can’t be found for Allen and Battier throughout this series. They simply have to convert just a few of the attempts they missed in Game 1, and the histories of both shooters suggest they inevitably will.

Defensive pressure

Miami’s defensive philosophy is rooted in pressuring the ball, often to the point that decent shots can be found across the floor if the opposing offense is composed and diligent enough to find them. For the most part, this doesn’t apply to the Pacers; George Hill looked flummoxed throughout Game 1, and was visibly antsy while dealing with Miami’s pursuit. On one occasion, he lost control of his dribble after simply catching sight of LeBron James in his peripheral vision — a should-have-been turnover (saved by Hibbert) that would have been Hill’s fourth:

Yet Indiana was able to score some essential points out of high pick-and-rolls, primarily because the Heat applied a bit too much pressure on the ball handler. Hill and D.J. Augustin didn’t fare well overall, but they were able to find their outlets on a few choice occasions, which created some badly needed offense:

The Heat will likely tighten the screws, but their order of coverage won’t soon change. This particular system is simply too good a fit with the quickness and athleticism across Miami’s roster, no matter how perilous it might be. It forces live-ball turnovers and quick, fast-break-fueling shot attempts, and for those reasons the Heat will largely hold course. But there will be opportunities for the Pacers to capitalize with these kinds of shots, and how well — and consistently — they do so could in part determine the length of this series.

Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com.

11 comments
goingaways
goingaways

Puleeze pacers were lucky to even get to OT, 3 point prayer from downtown biscayne blvd, then the fantom foul for a 3 point foul shots,,, oh did I forget to mention Heat going 16-25 from the FT line,, comon,, the score was not a reflection of the game albeit a tense battle,, oh and West will not continue that kind of shooting

m3kwong
m3kwong

I think more improbable is the 30 foot desperate 3 George made, and the other 3 point a foul called with 2.1s left.  Both of which if missed would be a Miami win. Miami would have a good chance to win with so much spacing on the floor even if Hibbert was there. 

OK
OK

If George Hill gives up his dribble 35 feet from the basket one more time in this series, may time be called and someone walk out onto the court with a sledgehammer and break every bone in both of his hands.

Beginning on the street or in CYO, every point learns NEVER GIVE UP YOUR DRIBBLE. NEVER!

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@goingaways You're right... West only shot 2 of 9 from the floor in game 2... which they still won...

Heat free throws, well they did improve by 5% from 64% to 69% so they didn't go as badly as they did in their game 1 victory, but even with improvement here they lost game 2.

Phantom foul was also turned around as the Pacers didn't benefit from this in Game 2, the Heat did on the Phantom technical calls against the Pacers, but this still didn't get the Heat the victory in game 2.

The Heat were out rebounded again just like they were in game 1.


JohnBunch
JohnBunch

@goingaways "oh and West will not continue that kind of shooting" Neither will Hill and Stephenson.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@OK If one never gives up their dribble there would be no passes or shot attempts... the shot clock would simply run out during each of their possessions...  Of course they need to give up their dribble...

JohnBunch
JohnBunch

@OK He hasn't been the same since the concussion...we need him to come up solid to have a shot at winning the series.

Mr. J
Mr. J

@OK Whoa!.....Calm down pop a pill and take a breather man..It will be okay I promise!!

OK
OK

@Mr. J @OK  

Hill's playing like an IDIOT. Nobody with any common sense gives up his dribble and puts himself on Imbecile Island 35 feet from the damn hole! And Hill did that about six times in game one!

Hill wasn't double-teamed. Hill wasn't forced to one sideline. Hill just gave up his damn dribble and left himself holding the rock like some All-American Doofus!

Surrender the dribble one more time like that and may someone break both of his hands.