Staring a potential 3-1 series deficit straight in the eyes, Miami desperately needed a hero in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semi-finals. Two arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse early Sunday afternoon.
The Heat, trying to avoid the ridicule of last season’s “early” playoff exit, had no other option but to steal Game 4 in Indiana and send the series back to South Beach tied at two games apiece. Without Chris Bosh in the starting five, Miami has struggled to match up with the big men of the Pacers, particularly Roy Hibbert and David West, and it showed during the first half on Sunday.
Indiana dominated Miami on the defensive front in the first half, grabbing 15 rebounds, compared to the five offensive rebounds of the Heat. This differential lead to a 41-38 field goal attempt advantage, and an even better 12-7 3-point attempt advantage for the Pacers. This dominance also limited Miami’s 2nd chance point opportunities, an aspect of the game that Miami usually dominates, holding them to only 9 points. The Heat were also not helping their cause by turning the ball over nine times, leading to eight Indiana points.
Luckily facing only an 8 point deficit at the half, largely in part to their defense, the Heat looked out of sync and poised to head back to American Airlines Arena on the verge of elimination. They were being dominated from every angle and it looked as if the series and their season were falling through their fingers.
LeBron wasn’t going to let that happen, he simply could not. Not two years in a row.
Facing a 10 point Pacer lead late in the second quarter, the duo put together a performance that will go down as one of the best for teammates in the last 40 years propelling Miami to a 101-93 victory. I wonder what Erik Spoelstra slipped into the Gatorade at the half….
“I felt like I had to do whatever it took to win,” proclaimed James.
Wade must have been feeling the same way, exploding in the second half for 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting, including a triple, alongside five assists, rising above his previous three-game slide.
“Me and ‘Bron had it going,” said Wade, who was coming off of his worst playoff game of his career, which included just five points on a rather flat 2-for-13 shooting, “We played off of each other very well. We both were aggressive at the same time. That’s beautiful basketball for the Miami Heat when we play that way.”
The dynamic duo went on a tear that spanned through the end of the second quarter into the third quarter for 38 straight points, before another Miami player found the bottom of the twine. They traded possessions, working the ball and creating offense. When there was no open look, they continuously attacked the rim, forcing Indiana’s big men to step up and make plays. This aggressive approach landed the Pacer’s Hibbert and West in foul trouble, creating even more opportunity for the Heat to take the lead, sending them to the line, which eventually put the game out of reach.
Playing the role of unsung hero in the absence of Bosh, Udonis Haslem contributed a quiet 14 points on five-for-six shooting, and a perfect four-for-four from the charity stripe. Miller, Battier, Chalmers, and Jones combined to score 17 to compliment the 84 combined points of Wade, James, and Haslem.
Leading the scoring attack for the Pacers starters was Danny Granger and Paul George, who had 20 and 13 respectively. Roy Hibbert was virtually ineffective in the second half due to foul trouble. Providing a great spark off of the bench, Darren Collison contributed 16 pints on a six-for-seven night which included some electrifying late game baskets. Collison rallied his teammates with his hustle and grit, unfortunately in a losing effort.
The Pacers, despite dropping Game 4, need to take this loss with a grain of salt. They have exposed Miami’s lack of depth behind the ‘Big Three’, which has been limited to the ‘Big Two’ with Bosh out indefinitely with an abdominal strain. Miami will be leaning on the questionable health of Dwayne Wade and the brute force of LeBron James to carry them until Bosh is healthy, which in Games 2 and 3, has proven that playoff basketball cannot be won playing two-on-five basketball.
If the Pacer’s big men can find a way to defend the aggressive Miami attack to the lane without landing themselves in foul trouble, this series is still far from over, still tied at two games apiece.