After going up 2-1 on the Miami Heat, the Indiana Pacers have dropped two games in a row and now face elimination with a loss in tonight’s game. Head coach Frank Vogel described his team as “cautiously optimistic” after taking the series lead, but coming off back-to-back poor performances, the Pacers are in dire need of a strong performance. Here are five things they need to do to give themselves a chance at prolonging the series:
Win the rebounding battle
In the two games the Pacers have won, they have outrebounded the Heat by an average of 13. Compare that to the three losses where they were outrebounded by an average of 10. The two players that need to be aggressive on the boards are Roy Hibbert and David West. The Heat’s interior players are not strong rebounders, so it is crucial that not only Hibbert and West assert themselves, but also Danny Granger and Paul George. The Heat will be without suspended Udonis Haslem in Game 6, which eliminates another rebounder for them. The Pacers must take advantage of this not only on the defensive end, but also with offensive rebounding. They have the personnel to do so, but rebounding is less about talent and more about effort. The Pacers must maintain their physicality and aggressiveness throughout the game not only if they want to outrebound the Heat, but also win the game.
Get Hibbert involved early offensively
The Heat have no one near the size of 7’2″ Roy Hibbert, allowing him to shoot over anyone they throw at him. There is no reason why the Pacers shouldn’t be running an inside-outside game through Hibbert. Allowing Hibbert to get going early in the game will only benefit the rest of the Pacers as the game progresses. Once Hibbert has established his presence down low, the Heat will be forced to throw extra bodies at him, freeing up room for their outside shooters.
Slow down the pace
In the two games the Pacers have won, they limited the Heat to seven fast break points per game. In the three losses, this number increases to 19 points per game. The Heat are the best fast break team in the league, and allowing them to play at a faster pace makes it almost impossible to beat them. The Pacers need to slow these games down as much as possible. In Games 4 and 5, the Pacers took an inordinate amount of early shots and pull-up jumpers in transition. If these shots don’t fall, they immediately lead to fast breaks and easy points for the Heat.
Stop relying on three-pointers
The Indiana Pacers are not a bad 3-point shooting team, finishing the regular season shooting 37%, good for the 6th highest percentage in the league. In the playoffs though, this percentage has dropped to 32%, yet they are attempting two more three-pointers per game. With the exception of Game 2, the Pacers have shot 32% or below from behind the arc in every game. As stated above, these long misses often lead to fast break opportunities for the Heat. The Pacers need to make a more conscious effort not to force three-pointers, but rather move the ball and find the best shot available.
Force LeBron James into taking jumpers
This is likely the hardest of the five tasks, as James has destroyed the Pacers in the past two games. In Game 4, where James went for 40 points, he didn’t hit a shot outside of 14 feet, and in Game 5 only 3 of his 12 made field goals came outside 15 feet. If you look at the breakdown of Jame’s shot locations, he shoots 47% from both 3-9 feet and 10-15 feet, but from 16-23 feet this number decreases to 39%. James is nearly unstoppable off the dribble, so in order to force him into taking jumpers, the Pacers need to double as well as trap him. The loss of Udonis Haslem for Game 6 will make this easier as the remaining big men pose no threat of hitting outside jumpers. This will allow the Pacers to throw an extra body at James in hopes of slowing him down.