The Heat didn’t need a stable of superstars to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night, just LeBron James.
Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade didn’t offer much help to James on the night, combining for 17 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. James carried the team with his 30 point, 8 rebounds and 6 assist night, but the biggest difference in this game was a team effort that saw them overturn a key stat that has allowed the Pacers to dominate them at times; points in the paint.
The Heat matched the Pacers for rebounds on the night, pulling down 32 boards to Indiana’s 33 and winning the points in the paint battle 34-32. Roy Hibbert wasn’t rendered ineffective as he finished with 22 points, but for the first time in this series, Hibbert had less than 10 boards finishing with just six.
Eric Spoelstra made an intelligent adjustment in this game, deciding to squash Lance Stephenson and George Hill’s production instead being overly concerned with battling Hibbert, David West and Paul George. Those three went off for 66 points on the night, but the starting back court players for Indiana combined for just five points.
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Though they went into halftime with a four point lead, the Pacers couldn’t cope with a factor that has so often changed games in Miami’s favor this season; James. Coming into that third quarter, James had the look on his face. We’ve seen it before, it’s the look of pure determination. He would go onto spearhead a quarter in which the Heat outscored Indiana 30-13 and received a good bit of help from Udonis Haslem who stepped up on the night with a 8-for-9 performance from the field scoring 16 points.
The Heat were able to do two things in that third quarter that changed the game. First, they relied on their defense heavily and forced the Pacers to turn the ball over eight times in the half. They were strong on the defensive boards as well, killing the Pacers second chance opportunities that made such a big impact in game four.
The second thing they did was simple; knock down shots. James scored or assisted on 25 out of the 30 points in the quarter. Whether it was him or Haslem or another Heat player, Miami knocked down open shots and made it easy to compensate for their lack of power on the boards by not needing to clean up after themselves. Haslem essentially made up for a lack of presence from Bosh and James did the rest.
If the Heat were looking for a formula to beat the Pacers, this is it. There is only so much Indiana can do when they can’t rebound and by taking the back court out of the game completely, the Heat exposed Indiana’s lack of depth in terms of scoring options. Before it was over, the evening turned into an absolute humiliation of Lance Stephenson, who fouled out on a charge call late in the fourth. His four points and three rebounds meant Miami didn’t have to worry about Indiana’s spacing or his ability to slash to the rim.
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In the end, game five simply proves what Miami does and doesn’t need to do. They don’t need to lean on Wade or Bosh for a 20 point night, just as long they play good defense, rebound strong on the defensive end and let James run the offense. The MVP is a solid passer, an incredible scorer and as long as one or two other teammates are knocking down some shots, they are better than Indiana. Game six will be even more closely contested, but Miami knows what they have to do and if they can follow through with the game plan, they’ll be heading back to South Beach to get ready for San Antonio as early as Sunday.