I would not be shocked if the Pacers came out Wednesday night with a sense of desperation and played their best game in months, pounding the ball inside and playing the suffocating defense we saw in Game 1, the defense that got them the top seed in the East.
I also would not be surprised if they came out, rolled over and basically surrendered Game 5 once the Heat put on a little run.
Indiana has been the most frustratingly inconsistent, immature team of these playoffs. That has been increasingly evident as they have dropped their last three games to the Miami Heat and now stand on the brink of elimination down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals. Maybe being in a must win game will refocus them on defense, get them to play to their strengths on offense.
Or maybe not. Who knows?
After an ugly outing in Game 4, rather than own that they got beat wire-to-wire and completely outplayed, the Pacers’ stars were pointing fingers and foolishly blaming the referees. That’s not a good sign for how they will come out in Game 5.
Coach Frank Vogel is trying to get his players to focus back on the court and the game, not the officials or anything else. And maybe have Lance Stephenson stop providing fuel to fire of LeBron James.
If the Pacers are going to win it will start with defense — in the regular season the Pacers allowed a league best 96.7 points per 100 possessions and allowed opponents to shoot 42 percent. The Heat are shooting 50.7 percent and have an offensive rating of 111.5 this series — Indiana, a defense built to slow the Heat, has not even come close. Miami has been able to go small with Chris Andersen out (and he is likely out for Game 5) and the Pacers have not made them pay a price. The Pacers struggles on offense are fueling the Heat’s transition game.
On offense, Indiana is often setting poor screens that are letting the Heat defenders fight over and through them. Miami’s defensive game plan is to be aggressive and force turnovers and combine that with guys fighting through screens and much smaller passing windows you get a Pacers team that is tentative on passes. Which means less ball movement. Which means tougher shots and the Pacers being easier to guard.
Indiana needs to run the offense more through David West on post ups (low block and at the high post) and Hibbert (on the low block) — then those two have to finish in the paint. They have not consistently.
Expect the Heat to come out playing with real energy on the road — they both know how to close a series out and understand a win Wednesday means a week off of rest before the Finals start. Dwyane Wade’s knees would appreciate that.
Chris Bosh came alive in Game 4 and if he is confident again and knocking down jumpers that’s trouble for the Pacers because it pulls Hibbert out of the paint and opens up driving lanes for LeBron and Wade. Miami is also using its defense to create transition and early offense points for itself, which is what they do best.
After Game 4, it’s easy to suggest that Pacers are back to imploding again, as they seemed to do the second half of this season and during parts of the playoffs. However, when threatened in this postseason they have put together their best games.
I have no idea what Pacers team will show up for Game 5. Sounds like the Pacers do not either.