Finally, the match-up most of the Basketball world has been waiting for is here. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat split their four-game regular season series, as the home team won each contest. It’s probably a good idea to throw out much of what we saw from these two Eastern Conference giants in the previous two rounds and focus on the clean slate that is a head of us. Both sides offer characteristics that can take advantage of the others weakness. The Pacers’ size and defense has been some what of a match-up problem for the smaller Heat in the past, while Miami’s speed, crisp half-court ball movement and its aggressive, trapping defense has caused Indiana’s sketchy offense issues.
All in all, the Pacers are 9-11 in their last 20 games against Miami (since 2012). Here are three areas that the Pacers should pay attention to or look to improve in if they want to topple the reigning champs.
The Pacers’ offensive rebounding percentage has plummeted this season compared to the previous two. Some of that can be attributed to creating more space for Paul George and Lance Stephenson drives, as David West is often farther from the rim than he typically was when Frank Vogel took over the team. The Pacers ranked 4th and 5th respectively in offensive rebounding percentage in the 2012-13 and 2011-12 seasons, respectively. This year, they’ve dropped to 21st in the league, as they grabbed 24.9 percent of their misses. It’s gotten even worse in these playoffs — Indiana pulled in just 19 percent of their misses in the 13 games against Atlanta and Washington.
The Pacers have been able to lean on their offensive rebounding in the past against Miami, especially the likes of West and Roy Hibbert. However, when the Heat control the defensive glass, the Pacers struggle to get easy second-chance points that often mean the difference in the final score. Put it this way, the Pacers grabbed a quarter of their misses in their two regular season wins over Miami this year, while that number falls to 15.2 percent in the two losses. It’s not as cut and dry as it sounds, but if the Pacers are doing well on the offensive glass, their chances of beating the Heat rise.
Limiting Miami’s “Quick” Offense
The Pacers are big on limiting its opponent’s fast break points (like most teams) and can cause Miami’s offense in the half-court problems unlike most other clubs. However, it’s the middle ground that the Heat have found success against Indiana’s stingy defense — or as some call it, “semi-transition.”
Part of this starts with controlling LeBron James in the open-court. In the video above, notice how no Pacer attempts to stop James (easier said than done) until he gets to the free-throw line. This forces the majority of the Indiana defense to gravitate towards James, leaving open shooters on the perimeter. The floor isn’t exactly wide open for Miami here, either, as four Pacers are back behind James. The Pacers are usually solid at building a wall in transition and clamping down on any potential fast breaks, but that has to start farther out against James when he grabs Indiana misses and leads the semi-break.
Miami will also look to set quick drag screens or slip screens to get a mismatch for James. Like here, when James drives George into a side pick from Ray Allen, causing former Pacer Orlando Johnson to switch on to James and allowing him to use his size in the post. It’s a simple action that happens early in the shot clock and I imagine the Pacers aren’t looking for the switch there between George and what will likely be Stephenson or Evan Turner come Sunday and beyond. Small things like that can lead to easy Heat points against a Pacers defense that isn’t exactly set yet — Indiana can’t afford to allow many of these situations.
Miami makes up for their lack of a true shot-blocker and utilize their athleticism on the perimeter by trapping or “hedging” hard on every pick and roll. As you can see below, they do exactly that after West sets half a screen for George Hill, causing Shane Battier (West’s defender) to jump out and briefly help Mario Chalmers cover Hill. Battier and Chalmers don’t trap here — Battier quickly relocates back to West — but Hill hesitates and doesn’t make the pass to West, although it could’ve been made and created a quick 4-on-3 in the process.
The Pacers guards will find themselves in this situation constantly in this series, as has been the case in each of the previous contests between these two teams. They key is making that quick pass without hesitation and avoiding dribbling into potential traps. When the Pacers fail to do that, it usually leads to turnovers — a recipe for disaster against this Miami team. The Pacers could turn to guard-for-guard pick and rolls — like George setting screens for Hill or Stephenson and vice versa. Indiana had some success in the previous two series against Atlanta and Washington doing exactly that.
The Pacers’ offense has sputtered over the last two months and into the playoffs. If it wasn’t for a few individual outbursts from George and West, this series might not exist due to Indiana’s up-and-down offense. The Hawks and Wizards aren’t the Heat, as you know, and the Pacers can’t afford numerous droughts on the offensive end.
Brandon Curry is the Pacers Beat Writer at the Indy Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Pacers and has full media access. Follow us on Twitter, @BCurryNBA and @IndySportsRep
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