The Pacers certainly found the winning formula on Thursday, excelling in a lot of the categories that we’ve talked about over the last two days. They put the pressure on the Heat to avoid going down 3-1 heading back home. But the momentum can make a colosal swing should the Pacers lose today; Indiana wants no part of a tied series, heading back to Miami for a game 5. Here’s how they avoid that possibility:
1. Pressure the Ball. Mario Chalmers killed the Pacers on Thursday with near-constant floaters. And it wasn’t like LeBron
James or Dwyane Wade were penetrating the lane and kicking it out to him for open threes. He was easily driving around his man (often and surprisingly, George Hill) and tossing up what looked like junk in the lane. His game seemed to mimic that of James; he was in attack-mode and couldn’t be stopped when he penetrated. That’s unacceptable. Any sort of replication of that effort by Chalmers will spell doom for Indiana. They simply can’t afford to let him, or any other normally inconsequential Heat player, blow up given the inevitability of a Wade bounce-back game. That all starts with stopping Chalmers at the point of attack and making him hit long-distance jumpers, which is the same strategy they Pacers successfully employed on James and Wade.
2. Get Creative. Frank Vogel must know that Miami is desperate for a win and will do whatever it takes. They’ll be creative with the looks they give Indiana on offense and defense, and it will be a whole lot more significant than just starting Dexter Pittman. I could see the Heat going with a more traditional big lineup for longer periods. Roy Hibbert, despite his big game 3, still has a tendency to get pushed out of position by stronger opponents. So heavy doses of Ronny Turiaf and Joel Anthony may be in the mix for today’s game, just to get Roy off of his rhythm. Whatever strategy the Heat use, the Pacers have to be ready to counter it.
3. Divide and Conquer. The Pacers are at their best when 4-6 players go for 10 or more points. The Heat simply don’t have enough capable defenders to cover the Pacers when they’re moving the ball well, being unselfish and taking good shots. While they’re not a great passing team by the numbers, they do rotate well on offense and their assist struggles have more to do with slow-developing individual player moves (like Roy Hibbert’s very deliberate post repertoire). They are very unselfish when playing at their best, and that’s Miami’s Achilles heel, considering their lack of depth.
4. Shoot the Lights Out. The Pacers are generally an excellent shooting team. Literally everyone in their wing rotation (and both point guards) can shoot at a 40+% clip from downtown (except Granger, who before Thursday’s game was still struggling mightily). That’s huge. The Heat have two reliable three point shooters who get meaningful minutes (Chalmers and Mike Miller) and one (James Jones) who they’ve tried to sneak in from time to time, but who struggles getting his own shots and plays very porous defense. Indiana needs to continue taking advantage of their perimeter shooting strength. It made all the difference on Thursday; knocking down threes is a quick way to knife a team in the heart.
5. Have Fun. Sounds cliche, but everything we’ve heard about this team’s “strategy” has been to go out and have fun, play together and not get down. Simple and true. If it works it works. It’s a lot easier to have fun when you win. So the Pacers need to be loose, play together and have a great time winning!