The abandoning of the Miami Heat ship that has been taking place over the past two days (TWO. DAYS.) has forced me to come out of retirement.
For as much as the Indiana Pacers, namely one player in particular, are making about the free throw disparity, it may only be a copout of owning up to their mistakes and flaws that continue to get exposed.
The Heat’s offseason rating of 115.3 per 100 possessions against the Pacers, and their top-ranked defense, this series far exceeds the rating they posted up in the regular season.
So, what does the 13.3% have to do with anything? It’s the percentage of points the Pacers scored their points from the mid-range. That includes David West and Luis Scola both having over 30% of their shots come from the mid-range, and Paul George having 8.7% of his points from the same area.
The Heat, meanwhile, only had 9.8% of their points from the mid-range, instead electing to take more of their two-pointers near the basket. Over 29% of their points came from the foul line, where Dwyane Wade scored nearly half his 15 points.
Also, Indiana only had 5% of their points come on fastbreaks, compared to 10% for the Heat.
The Pacers have been talking this season from start to finish, and these accusations of “home-cooking” are not a good look after three consecutive losses. If they blame everyone but themselves, and attempt to play mind games that backfire horribly, they’ll never be able to figure out how to keep LeBron James from shooting above 60%, which he’s done in three of the four games.
The trend of subpar shooting teams hitting their contested shots against the Heat has trudged well into its seventh month.
The Pacers drained 52.2% of their contested shots last night, with Paul George and David West combining to shoot nearly 60% on 22 contested shots. Luis Scola was 4-for-4, George Hill was 3-for-6, and Lance Stephenson was 2-for-5 on a night where they shot 44% on uncontested shots.
Miami managed to best Indiana, though, shooting 55% on contested shots, but failed to hit 40% of their uncontested shots, with Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and Rashard Lewis combining to miss all 12 of their open looks.
Indiana shot 55% on contested shots in Game 3 and 49% in Game 1. They only struggled in Game 2 when they shot 39%. Remember, this was a team that failed to score a point per minute in a game against the Atlanta Hawks this season.
They’re also shooting 40% from beyond the arc for the series after being a middle-of-the-pack three-point shooting team all season. They shot 41% in their previous season with Washington.
They also have an offensive rating of 105.3 points per 100 possessions this series, which is a substantial improvement from the 101.5 points per 100 possessions they were garnering in the regular season.
These numbers don’t mean much more now, either than it makes the possibility of a three game winning streak by Indiana all the more improbable, once you consider they’ve shot extremely well on tough shots in three out of four games.
You don’t need to see Indiana’s scouting report on Miami to know they have to keep Miami in the half-court as much as possible.
It’s not an indictment on the Heat’s half-court offense, which is arguably the best in basketball, but it’s just more practical to keep them there than to allow them in the open court.
In Game 4, this, not free throws or Frank Vogel’s coaching, was why Indiana lost.
The Pacers gave the Heat 20 points on their 14 turnovers, with Rashard Lewis, who continues to destroy Indiana passing lanes somehow, LeBron, and Dwyane Wade each recording two steals. Indiana, meanwhile, had one steal the entire game.
Miami outscored Indiana 10-4 on the fastbreak.
LeBron James contributed to 11 of those 20 points the Heat got off turnovers, as well as eight of the Heat’s 10 fastbreak points. He has led the forefront of suffocating pressure on ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll, but has had plenty of help from the likes of Rashard, who continued to tip passes intended for Pacer players.
His defense has stepped up to a level we haven’t seen since last year’s postseason run, and it’s been a breath of fresh air from having to hear critics of LeBron’s defense this year.
They’re still allowing David West to beat up on them in the paint and in the mid-range, but the Heat are forcing the Pacers to take the shots they usually miss.
Roy Hibbert returned to his usual non-scoring self in Game 4, while Lance failed to score a field goal until the midway point of the fourth, thanks in part to foul trouble throughout the first half.
We knew the irritation ringing in our ears of the ‘LeBron going back to Cleveland’ narrative would be strong. The Cavaliers winning the first pick earlier this week, however, has transferred that attention meant for the offseason to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Bearing a striking resemblance to the third quarter from Game 4 of the 2012 semifinals, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade combined to stifle any hope of Indiana taking full control of the series.
Had the dynamic duo not come through then, the Heat would have faced a 3-1 deficit. This time around, it would have been a 2-0 deficit, with 94% of teams previously going on to win series’ when they win the first two games.
Wade and James wouldn’t let that happen. In a critical fourth quarter, which featured Miami outscoring Indiana 25-20, Wade scored ten points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field, while LeBron dropped 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Norris Cole’s three, off a LeBron assist, with 10:45 left were the only Heat points in the quarter not scored by either Dwyane or LeBron.
Those two alone combined to outscore Indiana in the final frame. And with 7:18 left and the Pacers holding a four-point lead, it became the LeBron James show.
James, who had struggled to score ten points going into the final frame, would score nine consecutive Heat points, and then assist on a Wade dunk to give his team an 80-75 lead with 3:17 left.
For all the early criticism he was bludgeoned with for most of the contest, LeBron still ended with a well-rounded 22 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals on 50% shooting. He struggled from beyond the arc, but hit his only three of the night to cut Indiana’s four-point lead to one.
For as much attention as Lance Stephenson received for his five minute stretch of uncharacteristic brilliance, Wade was better, finishing with 23 points on 63% shooting, and also saving his best for last.
Stephenson, who had 23 points going into the fourth, scored two points in the final 12 minutes. You can thank Norris Cole, as well as the law of averages, for that.
Things certainly look your way when the uncontested shots you’re taking are actually falling.
While this wasn’t the case in Game 5 against Brooklyn or Game 1 against Indiana, it was in Game 2, with the Heat converting 58% of their 31 uncontested attempts.
Norris Cole, who finished with 11 points and his both of his three-point attempts, was a perfect 3-for-3 on uncontested shots. Mario Chalmers also hit both of open threes, while Dwyane Wade supported the squad with 4-for-6 shooting on uncontested shots.
Miami’s 40% shooting from three marked the first time they’ve shot better than 34% from three since Game 2 against Brooklyn. Bosh and James combined to shoot 2-for-9, but it was the supporting cast who led the way, with Chalmers and Cole combining to shoot 4-for-4.
Even Shane Battier entered the fray, knocking down one of his two threes.
The Pacers, meanwhile, who shot 60% on uncontested shots in Game 1, were only 41% this time around. David West and Paul George were a combined 4-for-12, while Luis Scola went 0-for-3.
Lance Stephenson and George Hill were the only players to thrive on their open makes for Indiana, going 8-for-14.
Indiana was no better on contested looks, shooting 38%, while Miami shot 44%. However, they still managed to shoot near 50% on 19 three-point attempts, converting on better than 40% of their threes for a second consecutive game.
The Pacers were a middle-of-the-pack shooting team in the regular season. One has to wonder how much they continue to rely on George Hill going 3-for-5, Stephenson going 2-for-4, and Rasual Butler going 2-for-3.
The Heat were a travesty on the defensive boards last night. Although they somehow won the rebounding battle, they were annihilated going after defensive rebounds, and gave up 16 offensive rebounds, including eight alone to Roy Hibbert.
Roy had more offensive rebounds than the entire Heat team. He also had 12 points to go along with his 13 rebounds, furthering the now well-known anomaly of Roy Hibbert going completely insane when he plays the Miami Heat.
Naturally, it was his first double-double of the playoffs, and first since March 21st. The eight offensive rebounds was also a season-high.
But his numbers hardly measured up to that of Chris Andersen’s, who once again proved he deserved more recognition for Sixth Man of the Year. In 29 minutes, Birdman brought down a team-high 12 rebounds, the third-most he had this year.
Although he only scored three points on 1-for-4 shooting, he was a game-high plus-25 and was instrumental, alongside fellow bench member Norris Cole, in Miami’s fourth quarter run.
His 28% rebounding percentage was a game-high, as was his net-rating of 49.3 and defensive rating of 77.4.
In a season where apathy and malaise was a repetitive theme, Birdman has been the lone consistent source of energy, even at the age of 36, the second-oldest on the team behind Ray Allen.
It’s for that exact reason why he shouldn’t start, either. Miami needs that energy off the bench, and also doesn’t need him picking up cheap, early fouls against Roy Hibbert, either.
54 points in the paint
As poor as the Miami Heat played on the defensive end, their offense beat up on the Indiana Pacers’ interior as it rarely has before, dropping 54 of their 96 points in the paint.
56% of their total points came from the painted area, with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade scoring at least 59% of their points in the paint. Chris Andersen also thrived in the paint with 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting and a pair of free throws.
Miami shot an impressive 51% against Indiana, the best field goal percentage they’ve given up in these playoffs, and was getting plenty from their two slashers. Unfortunately, their shooters, for a fourth straight game, shot well below 35%, despite, according NBA.com/stats, getting a fair number of open looks.
The Heat shot 44% on uncontested shots, just days after nearly dropping Game 5 against Brooklyn thanks to 34% shooting on uncontested looks. Lowlights from Game 1 included 1-for-7 shooting from Chris Bosh, who struggled heavily finding his stroke from beyond the arc, and Mario Chalmers going 1-for-5, including a pair of wide-open threes from the same corner.
The Heat were 0-for-6 overall on corner threes. LeBron James, 1-for-5 from beyond the arc, shot a pedestrian 4-of-8 on uncontested shots.
Meanwhile, the Pacers, who only took 21 uncontested shots to Miami’s 36, shot 57%, with Lance Stephenson, David West and Paul George combining to shoot 9-for-14.
Plain and simple, the Heat are going to need their shooters to step up if they want a shot at winning another title. Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, James Jones, and Chris Bosh all had their moments in the past three playoff runs with their shooting.
The same obviously applies to this season. LeBron James already had to score 49 points for a below average shooting effort in Game 4 against Brooklyn. They can’t rely on him to be better than great every night. At some point, more of his passes need to turn into assists.
For a moment there, the Heat looked poised to begin shooting the ball at an elite level after such an uncharacteristic year from beyond the arc. Expectations certainly rose as the Heat crushed Charlotte with 43% shooting from three, with Bosh, Chalmers, Cole and Jones all shooting 44% or better.
The shooting kept up in Games 1 and 2 against Brooklyn, but has petered off with four consecutive games of sub-34% shooting. Miami shot less than 36% overall against Brooklyn, but, as stated prior, it nearly cost them Games 4 and 5.
Miami opened up the Conference Finals with 26% shooting in Game 1. Although Indiana has held the Heat’s three-point shooting at bay over the course of the season, Miami has also failed to capitalize on open looks in just about every meeting.
Needless to say, it’ll be tough to see the Heat’s uncontested shooting percentage continue to teeter around 40%.
26 bench points
More strong numbers from Miami, but from too few of names. Miami may have gotten 26 points from its bench, but all of those points were scored by two players, with Andersen scoring 14 and Ray Allen scoring 12.
Ray was the only Heat player with more than one three-point conversion, although he was only 2-for-6.
Norris Cole and Udonis Haslem were the only other bench players to play more than ten minutes, but both responded with no points to contribute to the effort. James Jones missed his only shot attempt and went scoreless in four minutes.
After hitting at least one three-pointer in his first seven playoff games this year, Cole has gone scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting in the past three games. He also has only two assists and is losing trust from the coaching staff, playing less than 15 minutes in the past three games with the team electing to go without a point guard entirely for stretches.
By comparison, Norris Cole scored a point in all but two games of last year’s playoffs, and those came in the NBA Finals. He was imperative in Miami’s semifinals victory over Chicago, shooting 9-for-11 from three, and played well in the Game 7 victory over Indiana, contributing eight points and four assists.
Without Mike Miller, and with Michael Beasley perpetually in the doghouse (as he should be), it’s going to be up to guys like Cole to step into a role that asks of him to occasionally make threes and make wise decisions.
Shane Battier, who will likely come off the bench next game in favor of starting Udonis Haslem, will also be asked to shake the malaise of the entire season. After failing to shoot 35% from three this season, the second worst 3-point percentage of his career, Battier has had his playoff moments already, but not nearly on a consistent basis.
He only has one made three-pointer, on only three attempts, in the past four contests, and is becoming increasingly more hesitant when it comes to shooting. Too many times has he already dribbled or passed out of a feasible shot, which only leads to a hitch in the team’s offense on that possession.
Even if the Heat aren’t shooting well, you have to believe something has to got to give in the near future. The team that was mediocre all year shooting from three, after finishing second in 3-point percentage last year, will need guys like Battier and Cole to begin making their shots if they want to get through Indiana, and then face off with the well-balanced, well-oiled machine of San Antonio.
Miami is still reluctant to unleash James Jones for too long to fully scrap any Battier minutes.
Cole, too, has yet to lose complete trust. Although he’s losing minutes, the Heat have not trotted out Toney Douglas in his place. There still hope that he’ll catch fire as he has done in the playoffs many times before.
Paul Pierce asked for this. All of this.
If you thought Game 2 would be as easy as Game 1 was, you haven’t watched much Miami-based basketball.