After four games where the Pacers owned the offensive glass, got to the free throw line and used those things to score on the Heat at a shocking rate, Game 5 was a radical departure.
Indiana grabbed the offensive rebound on just 18.8 percent of their missed shots (it had been 39.9 percent for the first four games) as Miami made a point of putting multiple bodies near the glass. The Heat rebounded like a pack.
After getting to the line an average of 35 times a game the first four games, Indiana got just 15 free throws in Game 5.
Miami switched up its pick-and-roll defense, not trapping with their big men but rather working to get back and cut off passes to the post out of that play.
And, after a decent first half with those techniques, they cranked up the pressure in the final 24 minutes, using their athleticism to disrupt.
The result was 13 Indiana points in the third quarter, an offensive rating of just 90 points per 100 possessions (it had been 11.6 through four games) and a Pacers loss. While we all were focused on LeBron dominating on offense it was the Miami defense that was the unsung key to Miami’s Game 5 win and a 3-2 series lead.
And that defense is the big key to Game 6: can the Pacers get back to scoring enough to beat the Heat?
The Pacers’ defense will do its part — even if LeBron James can essentially be a trump card to that for stretches — but it is the offense that is the question mark. If Miami’s aggressive defense can keep the Pacers to 79 points again, this series is over.
Part of that is going to have to come from George Hill and Lance Stephenson, the guard pair that was 2-of-11 for 5 points in Game 5. Miami’s strategy involved at times pulling guards in to front bigger players (just for a second while Chris Bosh or Chris Andersen recovered), there is room for Hill and Stephenson to exploit that and they did not. They must.
Indiana also will need big games from its big men — Roy Hibbert and David West need to be on the glass, Paul George needs to be setting guys up and getting his. They all need to be aggressive and getting to the line.
Indiana has an added size advantage with Andersen suspended for the game. They have to take advantage.
I think you will see better Pacers offense. Not great, but better.
Can Miami outscore them? You can bet on LeBron James having another great game, the question again is will he get help. Dwyane Wade will do what he can, but he is grounded by his knee injury. Chris Bosh is going to have to have his best game of the series. Then somebody else needs to step up, too — Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, Udonis Haslem maybe. Although what Miami really could use is Ray Allen or Shane Battier knocking down threes. The offense from those two has been missed.
Expect a close game in this one. And as Phil Jackson is fond of saying, close games can turn of a trifle. Those kinds of games can go either way. We will see if the desperation of Indiana will be enough to force a Game 7.