For four games the Pacers offense had been fueled by offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. Those plays and the surprising success of the Pacers offense — averaging 111.6 points per 100 possessions — had the series tied 2-2.
In Game 5 things were different.
Indiana had just six offensive rebounds, grabbing the rebound on just 18.8 percent of their missed shots (compared to 39.9 percent combined in the first four games).
The Pacers had 15 free throws in Game 5, well behind the 35 a game they had averaged in the first four games.
The result of all that (along with the Pacers turning the ball over 20.5 percent of their possessions) was just 79 Pacers’ points — or 90.2 points per 100 possessions, if you prefer — and that’s not going to be enough for Indiana to win. Now Miami is up 3-2 in the series and Indiana has a huge mountain to climb to reach the Finals.
“It’s two contrasting styles,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game in trying to describe the series. “If our pressure, speed, quickness doesn’t get to their size, their size will get to us. We learned that the hard way.”
Speed killed on Thursday.
Miami came out from the start with a focus on defensive rebounding. They did it as a team using that quickness and athleticism — LeBron James led the Heat with 8 defensive rebounds, Chris Bosh had 5 and both Dwyane Wade and Chris Andersen had 4. The Heat don’t have a dominant rebounder, they have to do it as a pack and did in this game.
Andersen and Udonis Haslem were more physical with Roy Hibbert on the block, also the Heat doubled Hibbert and that made it harder for the big man to get his own rebounds.
“They made a concerted effort to send to me when I went to the offensive glass,” Hibbert said in his post-game press conference. “I couldn’t create as many offensive putbacks as I wanted to. It’s a credit to them adjusting on the fly.”
Hibbert, David West and Paul George carried the Pacers — they had 66 of their 79 points. But the easy putback buckets went away.
And they got no help from the starting backcourt — Lance Stephenson and George Hill were 2-of-11 for 5 points.
In the second half, the Heat really cranked up their ball pressure, and that bothered the Pacers — outside of George, the Pacers shot 31.8 percent. Miami was forcing turnovers (9 in the second half) and turning those into fast break points. It was the best defensive half of the series by Miami.
“In the second half we played much more aggressively and true to our identity,” Spoelstra said.
Miami’s aggression exposed Pacer flaws, for example they can have some terrible post entry passes. Under pressure those became turnovers. Also, with George Hill on the sidelines with foul trouble D.J. Augustin was exposed. The result of all of it was long possessions deep into the clock for Indiana then there would be a rushed and contested shot.
The Pacers will be at home where their role players will be more comfortable in Game 6 — and they are going to need a lot more out of them. Because the Heat are going to bring that same pressure to try and close the series out.