Dwyane Wade Leads Miami To Eastern Conference Finals

After Larry Bird called his team “soft” following the Game 5 rout in Miami, the Pacers responded early in Game 6, jumping out to a 13-3 lead and dominating the Heat in the paint. But a spectacular playoff performance from Dwyane Wade and way too many Indiana turnovers gave Miami a 103-95 win on the road to end the series in six (like I predicted) and send the Heat to the Eastern conference Finals.

Wade exploded for 41 points on 17-of-25 shooting while also adding 10 rebounds, singlehandedly keeping the Heat relatively even with the Pacers in the first half by scoring 20 points in the second quarter. The Pacers had taken an 11 point lead in the first quarter as they out-rebounded Miami 14-3 and got 22 of their 28 first quarter points in the paint. But Wade’s brilliant second quarter performance had the Heat down by just two at half. The Heat also got some big help from Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller, who combined for 27 points and seven 3-pointers. LeBron James wasn’t much of a factor early, but helped close out the resilient Pacers down the stretch and finished with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds. However, as great as Wade was and as helpful as it was for Miami to get a big game out of LeBron, Miller and Chalmers, the Pacers killed their chances with an atrocious 20 turnovers. They also got absolutely nothing out of their bench, who gave up Indiana’s 11 point first quarter lead within minutes and then allowed the Heat to extend a four point lead to 10 before the start of the fourth quarter. Indiana’s starters had a combined +/- of +13; their bench was at -73.  It’s true that the +/- stat doesn’t work cumulatively, but just looking at those number sheds a little bit of light how awful the Pacers’ bench was in this game. Indiana’s starters build leads up, but those leads evaporated as soon as the subs came in, and because those subs had to be taken out right away, the starters didn’t have enough gas left in the tank at the end from playing so many minutes.

Dwyane Wade was simply unstoppable and led the Heat past Indiana and on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

David West led Indiana with 24 points, George Hill had 18 and Danny Granger added 15, but it wasn’t enough to match Wade’s prolific night. Roy Hibbert continued his streak of underperforming, finishing with just 12 points and eight rebounds. Some of the disappointment in Hibbert’s inability to dominate a Miami side without Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem has to fall on Frank Vogel, who didn’t get him enough shots, but the majority is on Indiana’s “All-Star” (don’t even get me started on how Hibbert made the cut but Granger was snubbed as an All-Star). West was dominating the paint and getting good post position against Shane Battier, but Hibbert couldn’t establish good post position against Ronny Turiaf or Joel Anthony, often catching the ball out of the paint and far away from the basket. You combine Indiana’s awful bench, the 20 turnovers, Hibbert’s ineffective post game and his lack of a presence in the paint on the defensive end (Wade was on fire but if you’ve got a 7-footer protecting the basket, a lot of Wade’s drives to the rim shouldn’t be so easy), and it’s no wonder the Heat got the win and the series.

I said all along that without Chris Bosh, the Heat were in trouble (and I still stand by that, Miami doesn’t win the Finals without Bosh on the floor). I said the balanced scoring of the Pacers would give them an advantage over two superstars, and although the Heat advanced, I was pretty much right. Without Miller and Chalmers going off tonight, the Pacers force a Game 7. But the brilliance of Wade and LeBron cannot be denied in the last few games of this series. They simply overpowered Indiana and with a mediocre Hibbert failing to make this series his, the Heat advance to the next round. Indiana should be proud of what it accomplished this year and even in this game, never quitting and staying resilient until the end. They have a bunch of solid pieces, a great coach, a promising future and they gave the Heat a good series. Hopefully Hibbert is more aggressive next year as Danny Granger and Paul George continue to develop. But unfortunately for my sleeper team, two elite superstars look like they’re about to waltz into the NBA Finals.

Danny Granger and the Pacers had a great season, but they killed themselves in Game 6 and Wade took over.

Resilient Pacers Take Game 2 On The Road

It wasn’t pretty, but the Indiana Pacers found a way to win on the road against the Chris Bosh-less Heat and evened the series at one game apiece with a 78-75 victory. Although the Pacers didn’t gain a huge advantage in the middle with Bosh on the sidelines, they kept their playoff hopes alive by taking care of business and splitting games on Miami’s floor. Now the series heads back to Indiana where the Pacers will try to take advantage of playing at home and possibly take a lead in the series.

When Chris Bosh went down in Game 1 with a low abdominal strain, the sports world seemed to be divided: half (including me) thought the Heat’s chances of winning a title or even winning this series were seriously hurt by Bosh’s injury, while the other half believed it would just clear the way for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to shine. Game 2 was a little bit of both, but only because both teams shot the ball so poorly. The Pacers shot under 38 percent and the Heat were even worse at just under 35 percent. The Heat were also an appalling 1-for-16 from downtown, so even though LeBron finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, six steals and five assists to complement Dwyane Wade’s 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, the Heat couldn’t get anything out of their supporting cast to beat the better all-around team effort from Indiana.

The Pacers limited the Heat’s scoring to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade with Chris Bosh out.

The Pacers had a serious scoring drought in the second quarter before putting a run together to head into the locker room down by five. In the third quarter, however, Indiana came to life thanks to David West and Danny Granger, who picked up the offensive intensity. West led Indiana with 16 points and 10 rebounds while Granger, who had another poor shooting night but found open shooters and played quality defense on LeBron, pitched in 11 points and six rebounds. The Pacers outscored the Heat 28-14 in the third and took a nine point lead heading into the fourth. Miami battled back in the game’s final minutes and it could have gone either way, but neither team seemed ready to seize control of the game by making their free throws. LeBron James missed three free throws in the fourth, including two back-to-backs that would have given the Heat the lead with 54 seconds to play. George Hill could have put the game away for the Pacers with 14 seconds left, but only made one of two and gave Mario Chalmers a chance to erase Indiana’s three point advantage at the buzzer (which was a really bad decision on Erik Spoelstra’s part). Fortunately for Indiana, it didn’t fall and the Pacers took Game 2 on the road.

Indiana winning this game was huge not only because they gave themselves a chance to compete in this series, but also because they did it without Roy Hibbert having a big impact. Hibbert has really struggled on the offensive end in the postseason, which is inexcusable considering the vast size advantage he’s had on opponents so far. At some point, the Pacers won’t be able to contend without Hibbert having a few prolific scoring nights, but for now, being able to win without Hibbert putting up big numbers was a huge accomplishment despite the fact that Miami blew numerous chances to finish them off at home. With no Chris Bosh, Frank Vogel needs to find a way to exploit Miami’s weakness down low and get both Hibbert and West involved. Danny Granger still needs to shoot the ball better and 17 turnovers is way too many to give a Heat team that thrives off transition buckets. But Indiana’s defensive strategy of focusing on shutting down Wade worked for the most part and showed the world that a Miami Heat team without Bosh is very vulnerable against a complete team with multiple contributors (side note: that no-call when Wade looked like he was fouled by Dahntay Jones was a great no-call. Stop flopping, Wade. You’re better than that). George Hill and Paul George both stepped up, Granger’s contribution was slightly improved and Leandro Barbosa had a solid game off the bench, as opposed to the Heat, who had no one score more than five points other than LeBron and Wade. With home court advantage, Indiana needs to capitalize and get big games from Granger and Hibbert while only allowing LeBron and Wade to hurt them on the other end. If they do these things at home, Miami will have their hands full against this dangerous Indiana squad.

Danny Granger had a better game but Indiana still needs more out of him.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade And Indiana Foul Trouble Gives Miami 1-0 Lead

Even with Chris Bosh on the sidelines for the majority of the game, the Miami Heat gutted out a 95-86 Game 1 win over the Pacers thanks to elevated performances from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and Indiana’s foul trouble. Bosh suffered a lower abdominal strain late in the second quarter and did not return, but Miami was able to capitalize with a few of the Pacers’ key players on the bench to grab a 1-0 lead on the series.

The Pacers came out swinging and opened up a 13-4 lead early on, but the Heat battled back and were down by just six at halftime. A lot of credit has to go to Mario Chalmers, because although he only had four points, he drew a huge charge on George Hill that shifted momentum in Miami’s favor. As the Heat were making a run and Hill had three fouls, the Pacers tried to get the ball past half court to call a timeout. However, Chalmers stepped in front of Hill’s path right before Indiana could call the timeout and Hill barreled right into him, sending him to the bench with four fouls in the first half. Darren Collison stepped in and finished with 10 points, but with such limited playing time, Hill was never able to fully establish a rhythm and help his team compete in Game 1. Dwayne Wade also had a big night, finishing with 29 points (13 of which came from the free throw line). I’m not a big fan of a few of Wade’s flops that earned him trips to the foul line and Frank Vogel looks like a prophet now after saying the Heat flop and that how the officials call the game would have an effect on the outcome (foul trouble hurt the Pacers), but Wade’s effectiveness was unquestionable either way you look at it.

Chris Bosh went down early, but LeBron and D-Wade carried the Heat to victory.

The most credit has to go to LeBron James, however. James won the game for his team by taking over in the fourth quarter after Danny Granger had done a decent job of limiting him in the first half. James scored half of his points in the fourth quarter and he and Wade outscored Indiana’s entire team 42-38 in the second half. He finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals, a block and just one turnover. James also did another stellar job of shutting down Granger, who is Indiana’s leading scorer. Although Granger is not a superstar or a crunch time hero, he is still the Pacers’ biggest offensive contributor, and without him putting up points, Indiana doesn’t stand a chance in this series. Granger could only muster seven points on 1-of-10 shooting with LeBron guarding him, which effectively secured the win for Miami with so many Pacers in foul trouble. Even though Chris Bosh was out, the Pacers weren’t able to exploit Miami’s disadvantage in the post because Roy Hibbert was in foul trouble early and missed a considerable amount of time in the second half. Hibbert finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but when he was out in the fourth quarter, Miami made their run and didn’t look back from there.

Bosh had 13 points before he was challenged on a dunk by David West, which caused his shoulder to snap back as he was at the peak of his jump. Bosh landed and immediately went to the ground before making his way to the locker room a few plays later. With Bosh out, Hibbert began to excel on offense and defense before getting into foul trouble. West was also able to capitalize on Bosh’s absence with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Unfortunately for Indiana, foul trouble to Hibbert, Hill and Paul George kept them from really being effective, and with LeBron taking Granger out of his game and shutting him down, it was impressive the Pacers were even in the game. Indiana’s bench contributed, with guys like Collison, Leandro Barbosa and Tyler Hansbrough pitching in crucial points off the bench. If Bosh is out, Indiana has to do three things to stay competitive in the series. First, they must exploit Miami’s posts with Hibbert and West. If Bosh’s MRI reveals that he will miss extended time in the series, Indiana has to pound the ball in down low, because Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony can’t stop the Pacers’ frontcourt for an entire series. Second, they have to get better performances out of Danny Granger. Granger is averaging just 12 ppg against the Heat in five games, a testament to LeBron James’ defense. Granger scored 25 in Indiana’s one win over Miami during the regular season and he had 19 when they lost by two at the beginning of March. In the other three games, Granger put up just over five points a game. Granger has to find a way to score despite LeBron’s stifling defense. Finally, the Pacers’ bench needs to continue to contribute. Staying out of foul trouble goes without saying, but if Indiana’s role players (Collison, Barbosa and Hansbrough) can keep up this production, the Pacers will be tough to beat. I still believe the Heat will advance, but the Pacers have been my sleeper team all year and I hope I’m right when I say this team will give the Heat more problems than most people think.

David West and Roy Hibbert have an advantage down low, especially if Bosh is out for awhile.

Indiana Survives Orlando Comeback, Wins In Overtime

The Pacers survived a late Orlando rally and escaped Game 4 with a 101-99 victory in overtime to take a 3-1 lead on the series. Indiana made up for an embarrassing home loss to the Magic in their playoff opener by winning three straight, including both games in Orlando. The series now shifts back to Indiana and it looks like the Pacers will advance to the second round after edging Glen Davis and Jason Richardson in Game 4.

Although he missed a shot at the buzzer to send the game to double overtime, Glen Davis played another phenomenal game and somehow outperformed Roy Hibbert again, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds (compared to Hibbert’s 14 points and 11 rebounds). But even with Hibbert fouling out and Jason Richardson and the rest of Orlando’s perimeter guards hitting shots, the Magic were unable to get the win after erasing a 19-point deficit that the Pacers had built up with just over eight minutes to play. The Magic benefitted from much better outside shooting from Jason Richardson, who ended the night with 25 points, along with Hedo Turkoglu, who shot 50 percent. In fact, every one of Orlando’s starters finished in double digits, even though Jameer Nelson and Ryan Anderson struggled with their shooting. J.J. Reddick had 10 points, including a big 3-pointer late in regulation to tie the game up.

David West’s big game led the Pacers offensively in Game 4.

The Pacers built up a sizable third quarter advantage because of David West’s standout performance, leading Indiana with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Danny Granger fulfilled his role as a predominant scorer, finishing with 21 points and seven rebounds, but it was George Hill who ended up being the hero after scoring 11 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to hold off Orlando’s desperate run. Hill hit two free throws with 2.2 seconds left to put his team ahead in overtime, which was followed by Glen Davis’ last-second attempt to tie the game and send it to double overtime. And although Paul George only scored two points, his good defense on Davis’ last second shot helped secure Indiana’s Game 4 victory since Roy Hibbert had fouled out.

With the series heading back to Indiana for a decisive Game 5, as long as the Pacers take care of business, they should finish the Magic off. Despite their success in Orlando, they want to finish this series at home and as quickly as possible. Unless the Magic have a stellar shooting night and Ryan Anderson actually shows up to play, the Pacers should run away with this one. Credit Stan Van Gundy and the Magic for competing for the majority of this series, but without Dwight Howard, they’re not a threatening playoff opponent. The Pacers will need to play much better if they advance (which is pretty much a guarantee at this point), but for now, as long as they take care of business at home, they will get a chance to rest before they take on the Heat in round 2 (unless the Knicks defy NBA history and miraculously come back from a 3-0 deficit).

Glen Davis is still eating up Roy Hibbert in the series, but Indiana got the win anyway.

Van Gundy Works His Magic

Derrick Rose’s ACL tear and Miami’s blowout on the Knicks were big headlines today, but the Indiana Pacers losing Game 1 at home to the Howard-less Magic should make its own major headlines. I predicted the Pacers would sweep, but Stan Van Gundy and the Magic had other plans. After listening to how guaranteed Indiana’s victory was over the past few days, it’s no surprise Orlando came out fired up. They’ve had a tumultuous season dealing with Dwight Howard’s melodrama and the disunity between him and their coach, but with Howard out, this team has galvanized and now play for each other. Which is probably a big reason why they rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 81-77.

But the biggest reason the Magic won is that the Pacers looked like they took this game, and possibly even the whole series, for granted. Indiana was outscored 11-0 in the game’s final minutes and they blew their lead and the game. Nobody could hit a shot, the offense went stagnant and they left shooters like Jason Richardson wide open. But worst of all was Danny Granger completely falling apart. I picked Granger as a top player to watch in the playoffs this year as he became the driving force behind a hot Pacers squad. But when his team needed him most, he not only disappeared, he actually made them worse. He couldn’t get shots close to the rim to go, he missed two critical free throws, he had two terrible turnovers at the worst possible times (a backcourt violation and a travel with the game on the line) and none of this would have been completely terrible if he didn’t look completely timid and indecisive the whole time. Granger turned into a deer in the headlights during the entire fourth quarter, especially when Orlando started to make its run.

Glen Davis outplayed Roy Hibbert as the Magic shocked the Pacers at home.

The Pacers need Granger to score more than 17 points a game, especially when Leandro Barbosa and Roy Hibbert score a combined 11 points. Hibbert has a ridiculous size advantage on Glen Davis and Ryan Anderson, so scoring 8 points is absolutely pathetic, especially when you throw in the fact that Davis pushed him around all game and the Pacers barely won the rebound battle, 35-34. Hibbert absolutely needs to regroup and come out with a vengeance in Game 2, regardless of his 9 blocks. In fact, David West is the only player on the Pacers who looked okay, but he disappeared down the stretch too. Paul George missed critical wide open 3-pointers down the stretch and George Hill didn’t have much of an impact after looking so impressive when he was moved into the starting lineup. But even with everyone else disappearing, the majority of the blame should still be placed on Danny Granger for this awful performance. Until Granger learns how to take control and be a crunch-time player in close games, the Pacers will never be the dark horse in the East they could be.

Granted, the Magic did have to play exceptionally well to get the win. Jason Richardson hit five 3-pointers, which doesn’t happen every day. The entire Pacers team had to completely collapse and miss all of their shots over the last few minutes for Orlando to have a chance to come back. And while Orlando’s heart in playing for each other and for their coach to defy everyone’s expectations is inspiring, I can’t say with certainty that this team can play at this level over the course of a seven-game series. The Pacers shot 34.5 percent from the floor and finished with 77 points. The Magic only scored 81 points. This was Indiana’s game to lose and they lost it in extremely underwhelming fashion. But I don’t think any of these things will happen again. So even though my prediction that the Pacers would sweep looks pretty bad right now, I’m still picking Indiana to win the series in 5 or 6 games. But they’re definitely on upset alert right now.

If this shot was in the 4th quarter, Granger probably missed it. Indiana can't afford for him to disappear.