The pendulum in the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals seems to have swung back the Pacers’ way following their 99-92 victory over the Heat Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
Indiana’s victory sends the two teams back to Miami even-up in their best-of-seven series with two wins apiece. The matchup now becomes a best-of-three affair with the Heat holding the slight advantage of having two games at home. Game 5 is Thursday night in Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena.
The word “slight” is used because both teams have won on the other’s floor, and the Pacers pushed the Heat to overtime before losing the opener in Miami a week ago.
At least two things seem to have become evident after four games:
No. 1 is that the Heat have no answer inside for the Pacers’ 7-foot-2 center, Roy Hibbert. Hibbert had 23 points and perhaps more important a dozen rebounds in the Pacers’ latest win. With teammate David West matching him on the boards, the Pacers owned a 49-30 rebounding advantage.
With 15 of those rebound at their offensive end, the Pacers enjoyed a 19-12 advantage in “second-chance” points, the seven-point margin in that category matching their cushion for the game. Actually, it seemed like even more.
For the series, the Pacers are plus-36 on the boards.
No. 2, to overcome that disadvantage, the Heat can’t get by with 39 percent shooting, which is what they shot Tuesday night.
Also, at least two of their Big Three has to have the usual production, and that didn’t happen. Despite so-so shooting and fouling out, LeBron James led the Heat in scoring with 24 points, going 8 of 18 from the field.
But Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were pretty lame. Yes, Wade scored 16 points, but he needed 15 attempts for his five field goals, and he made several key mistakes, not the least of which was trying to get too cute in the closing seconds and being called for a walk that virtually eliminated whatever last-gasp opportunity the Heat may have had for a miracle comeback.
He also made a big mistake at the defensive end of the court in the final two seconds of the third quarter. The Pacers were throwing the ball inbounds, and Wade went to double-up on a Pacer near the top of the key, leaving Lance Stephenson open for a 3-pointer from the corner. When it swished the net the buzzer, it gave the Pacers a seven-point lead entering the final period. A minute earlier, it had been a one-point game.
Stephenson’s was not an easy shot, but it was one he probably wouldn’t have even had if Wade simply remained in the same area code instead of making what looked like an unnecessary gamble.
Bosh’s contributions totaled up seven points, three rebounds and a blocked shot. He made one field goal, a 3-pointer in the third quarter that encouraged him to take two more from behind the arc, which missed.
Enough said there.
What it comes down to is this. When they are on their game, the Heat are a better team than the Pacers are when they are at the top of their game.
If James continues his solid play, Wade and Bosh live up to their reputations, and one or two players from a combination of Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Chris Anderson make a few plays, the Heat will advance to the NBA finals.
But they need more than just James and a miracle to get by a Pacers team that has demonstrated it isn’t awed by the defending champions. If Paul George gets his offense going again to complement Hibbert, West, and Stephenson, that pendulum may not swing back to the Heat’s favor this time.