How Indy can rock
Ways the Pacers could beat Bosh-less Heat (PER Diem: May 15, 2012)
Updated: May 15, 2012, 1:46 PM ET
By John Hollinger | ESPN.com
Difficult Injury For Chris Bosh
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With good reason, everybody is focusing on what Chris Bosh's absence means for the Miami Heat.But how about turning that question on its head: What does Bosh's absence mean for the Pacers? You know, the Heat's opponent in this thing? The one who would have a clear path to the Finals themselves if they somehow can outlast Miami?
With Bosh out indefinitely because of an abdominal strain, an Indiana team that already matched up pretty well against Miami now appears to have a window open to stealing the series.
However, they're already in a tight spot. The Heat went up 1-0 on Sunday, making Game 2 almost a must-win for the Pacers. Historically, teams down 2-0 eventually lose the series 94 percent of the time -- in the first round, Denver, Utah, New York and Dallas joined that group.
Leave Miami with a split, though, and the odds improve dramatically. Teams that do so have nearly a 40 percent chance of taking the series. (Weird fact: Teams that win Game 1 and lose Game 2 have done much better than teams that do the opposite. In theory it shouldn't matter which game is won or lost since it's a split either way; in practice, teams that get a split by winning Game 2 on the road are 34-74; those that get it by winning Game 1 are 48-47.)
So the Pacers need a win tonight, which won't be easy against an opponent with the two best players on the floor and a suffocating defense even in Bosh's absence.
With and without Bosh
Indy has some advantages in its favor. For starters, the Heat without Bosh are definitely worse off. While our Tom Haberstroh noted that Miami actually played better with Dwyane Wade-LeBron James alignments than with all three stars on the court, partly because those lineups were usually playing other team's second units, that's only part of the equation.
Miami can play Wade-James for much of the game, but not all of it. And the picture shifts dramatically in "monostar" lineups. Miami was +38 in 612 minutes with James as the only one of their three All-Stars on the floor, and -10 in 53 minutes with Wade. Combined, that's just 2.0 points per 48 minutes better than break-even.
They were an ordinary team, in other words, when James or Wade had to ride alone. Moreover, Miami will need to play that way for about a third of every game or longer, presuming they want to keep both players at around 40 minutes of game action and stagger their rest periods. (Not staggering their rest would be even more disastrous; the Heat were outscored by over 20 points per 48 minutes without any of their three stars on the floor.)
The free throw game
And this is where a second key point from Game 1 comes in: Fouls. Indiana's unique strategy of complaining about the officiating before the series even started didn't appear to pay dividends in the opener; Miami had a 38-28 advantage in free throw attempts and several key Pacers were in foul trouble all game.
But in the big picture, high-foul games could be strongly to the Pacers' advantage if they can get some of the fouls on LeBron and Wade. Virtually all of Indiana's games this season were foul-laden slogs: The Pacers were third in the NBA in free-throw attempts per field goal attempt, and fouled nearly as often (fifth). They're not quite Utah, but they're getting close.
Miami itself is a high free throw team, ranking fourth in attempts and at the league average at the defensive end. Based on those data points, we should expect Miami to have an advantage.
Looking at personal fouls rather than free throw attempts puts this disparity in sharper detail. Paul George, Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, Dahntay Jones and Leandro Barbosa all averaged about a foul every 10 minutes; Louis Amundson averaged one every six. The only Miami players who fouled that frequently were Ronny Turiaf and Norris Cole, and in Cole's case I'm using the words "rotation player" with Nash-like generosity.
Indiana's foul trouble in Game 1 may have been more serious than it will be in other games, compounded by the foolishness of George Hill's fifth foul. (Suggestion: If you want a timeout, just call it. Why have the guard dribble to the bench and risk a turnover? This drives me crazy.) Nonetheless, we have pretty strong evidence that foul issues will linger all series for the Pacers.
On the surface, that's a problem; as I've noted before, Indiana's starting five was nearly the equal of Miami's in the regular season, but the Pacers played poorly once their bench guys had to come in.
On the other hand, there's a big "however" here: Foul trouble will disproportionately impact Miami if it impacts two players in particular. The Pacers have halfway-decent subs at every position, while the Heat do not. If Miami resorts to using those players to replace Wade or LeBron, even if just for a few extra minutes, it's a huge advantage for the Pacers.
Changing the rotation
With Bosh out the picture and Miami going small for big chunks of the game, it also leaves the door open for Indiana to tweak its rotation to get better players on the floor. In particular, it seems the Pacers can mothball Amundson for the rest of the series and give his minutes to Jones, a perimeter defender who can match up with Wade or LeBron when Miami is playing small. (The most bizarre part of Game 1 was when Amundson came in for a foul-plagued Hibbert, rather than Hansbrough, and played a five-minute stretch of the third quarter with the other starters. Bosh was already out of the game, too.)
The concern for Indiana is going too small. When the Pacers play Darren Collison and Leandro Barbosa together in the backcourt, they're vulnerable to Miami's "big-small" lineup that features a bunch of 6-foot-8 guys and Wade. In Game 1, Barbosa, who can barely guard melting tar, had to check Wade and was completely overmatched. Losing Hill to fouls was huge in this regard, as he could have checked Wade more adroitly playing the 2 beside Collison.
Again, Jones can be a factor. Miami's "big-small" lineup with LeBron, Wade, Miller and Battier is a tough matchup, but if Indiana plays its point guard on Battier and plays Jones, the Pacers can handle it even if Danny Granger or George is resting.
Pacers fans will point out that Granger and George shot a combined 2-for-15, and even with Miami's best defenders checking them they're likely to do better than that in Game 2. Fair enough, but that cuts both ways. Miami didn't make a single 3-pointer in Game 1 and Wade shot 8-for-23. Both sides shot 40 percent for the game and I expect each to shoot more accurately in Game 2.
The more technical point is whether the Pacers can convert corner 3s against the Heat.
On the regular season, Miami allowed 40.2 percent shooting on corner 3s -- eighth worst in the league -- but was the second-best defense in the restricted area.
The best way to score easily on Miami is to take advantage of its willingness to abandon the corner to protect the basket. Unfortunately, the corner 3 isn't really in Indy's wheelhouse. The Pacers were 20th in corner-3 frequency this year at 4.7 per game, according to NBA.com's advanced stats tool, and also 20th in accuracy at 35.4 percent. Indiana, in fact, was one of only five teams that were better at shooting 3s above the break than in the corner.
So it was in Game 1. The Pacers had five corner-3 tries and made just one of them. But this is where good offenses can burn Miami; just ask Dallas.
Watch this especially in Game 2. Bosh's absence clearly leaves an opening, but I suspect the Pacers need to make more corner 3s to drive through it.